Think about the community you live in. The places you go, the people you know.

Now read the following statement:

It’s not right that First Nations communities don’t have access to clean running water.

Do you agree? Disagree?

A group of social psychology researchers have figured out one way to make Canadians more likley to care about First Nations issues — and it’s all about community.

Katelin Neufeld

Katelin hopes this research can be used as a catalyst to finding viable and respectful solutions to issues in the world around them. (Chantelle Bellrichard)

Hundreds of undergraduate students were recruited for the two-part study and split into groups in which they were probed about nationalist and local connections.

The research found non-indigenous Canadians expressed the most outrage about the lack of clean, running water in First Nations when asked to think first about their own connection to the people and places around them.

Katelin Neufeld is one of four researchers on the study. She presented the findings to a packed lecture hall on Wednesday at the University of Manitoba CREATE H20 and Water Rights Conference.

“The reason we’re reminding people of why connection to community works is because they then see more value in all communities, not just their own,” she said.

As of February, Health Canada reported 92 First Nations across the country were under drinking water advisories. While this issue has been reported on for years, research presented at the conference pegged most Canadians as knowing little to nothing about water quality on First Nations — another study showed support for addressing the problem is low.

'Everyone can tell other people to reflect on how they’re connected to their own community. It’s something that’s really accessible and can hopefully be used by anybody.'- Kateline Neufeld 

Neufeld hopes to change that.

“The reason we started this project was hoping to have a really great takeaway message for people,” she said.

“Everyone can tell other people to reflect on how they’re connected to their own community. It’s something that’s really accessible and can hopefully be used by anybody.”

‘Why don’t they just move?’

Not everyone was outraged or empathetic in the study.

In fact, the research showed when people were asked to think how they’re connected to Canada, as opposed to connected to community, they were less likely to express compassion about water issues in First Nations. The same results were seen when participants were asked to focus on their disconnection from community. Both these groups were also more likely to agree that moving an entire community is a viable solution to water issues.

Neufeld said the relocation component was added to the study after the “why don’t they just move” question kept coming up in her research: for example, in online comments responding to news articles.

“We know if we look through history or research, when we relocate communities it often has disastrous effects — and especially so for First Nations,” she said.

But the real focus for Neufeld is to offer a tool for social change — a catalyst to finding viable and respectful solutions to issues in the world around us.

Katelin Neufeld’s research team included Dr. Katherine Starzyk from the University of Manitoba, Dr. Danielle Gaucher  from the University of Winnipeg and Greg Boese (PhD candidate) at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.