Health Advocacy, Bicycling North

By Brendan Groat MED II

Last summer, through the University of Saskatchewan Making the Links (MTL)Global Health Certificate Program, I had the exceptional experience of living in Île-à-la-Crosse for six weeks and visiting other northern communities, including Dillon, Pinehouse, and Buffalo River Dene Nation (Dillon). I learned about life in the north and the health experiences of northern peoples, both through clinic hours but, moreso, community involvement.  


Among presentations, work with schools and community centres, and Water Safety and other community days, a Bike Day was a bright spot of the summer. Activities & games, health & safety education, as well as bike tune-ups were eagerly enjoyed despite few tools and zero replacement parts. Through this, and further conversations with and, importantly, listening to community members, I learned northern communities very much want to support bicycling.


I heard that northern peoples see bicycling as a health solution for their communities; They are aware of the improved physical health provided in exercise and increased access to nutritious–including traditional–food. They care that mental health, especially of their youth, is improved through the empowerment and joy of maintaining and riding a bike. Access to social connections, a root aspect of social health–especially in Indigenous culture–is increased by way of bicycles. Closer connection to land and environment supports spiritual health through traditional values. These are their feelings and ideas related the functioning of their communities, and hopes for improving health.


Because advocacy is first about hearing the help asked for, then acting to create relevant supports, and that ‘those that are able, ought’–I was compelled to give materials and knowledge, so I took steps towards the Bicycling North project. In addition to  efforts to increase access to healthcare, supporting bicycling in these communities is responsive to the autonomy and aspirations of these communities. Through the project, which will take place the summer 2017 (May 15 – June 30), I will be visiting each community (Île-à-la-Crosse, Dillon, Buffalo Narrows, La Loche, Beauval, and Patuanak), by bicycle, and conducting a fun Bike Day (of games, bike tune-ups, and health & safety education), and another Workshop Day of basic bike mechanic skills, providing knowledge, parts and a tool set, to be sustainably championed by respective community centres. I will also be completing clinic hours, representing an important connection of community initiatives to healthcare.


On March 4th we held the RYDE YXE Fundraiser, successfully raising nearly $200 to support this project! I encourage you to get involved in the project donating to, or promotion through word-of-mouth or @BicyclingNorth on social media! All contributions will be directed towards purchase of tools and parts for northern communities. For more information please visit the project Facebook page– or contact me at ​