Division of Indigenous Health almost a reality

Guest blog by Dr. Veronica McKinney, Director of Northern Medical Services, and Val Arnault-Pelletier, Indigenous Coordinator

The creation of a Division of Indigenous Health in the College of Medicine is one step closer to being realized. There is much activity happening regarding Indigenous health within the College of Medicine and a need exists to coordinate efforts. The division will be a great resource in bringing together Indigenous research initiatives, students, community, and education. While other Indigenous initiatives are led through the college’s Division of Social Accountability and its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, the new Division of Indigenous Health will be key as the strong Indigenous voice finding and leading the intersections and opportunities to work together to create a strong model that will serve the people of Saskatchewan well.

We’ve been actively engaged in the work of planning for this new division, with Veronica providing leadership as the chair of the Indigenous Health Committee. With Val’s input and coordination, we’ve had many meetings involving the Indigenous Health Committee, as well as retreats, surveys and individual consultations with stakeholders to ensure many voices come together in a comprehensive vision.

To pull everything together into a 2021 Position Paper for a Division of Indigenous Health, we’ve relied on Indigenous consultant Julie Wriston, who used her research and expert writing skills to put all the ideas into an easily understood, readable format.

The idea for the division was put forward at different retreats and planning sessions over time with the Indigenous Health Committee. It has taken a few years of intense consultation to get to this point. The position paper was adopted at a 2021 spring virtual retreat. The retreat also helped to formalize college senior leadership support and identify related resourcing needed to create the new division. A final meeting with Indigenous students will complete the vision, and this meeting will take place this fall.

The division plans to operate with oversight from a range of stakeholders, including students and residents in the College of Medicine, and knowledge keepers. The division will need to balance Indigenous and western worldviews, while ensuring national accreditation standards are met for the college. This is no easy task and it will still take some time and coordination to ensure the positions, roles and structures are in place to address needs effectively.

The first order of business recommended within the position paper is to create a robust position description and adequate support for a senior academic leader in the college to lead this work and the new division. The division will have two Indigenous Coordinators, who are already in place in Saskatoon and Regina, and there is a need for other roles to carry out the vision that’s been created for the new division. For example, it’s been identified that there is a need for a Community Engagement Coordinator, who will work specifically with urban and rural Indigenous communities to ensure their needs are being met in a holistic way.

Indigenous Knowledge Keepers have been a key part of the vision and they will continue to guide the way forward. We are fortunate in Saskatchewan to have many visionary Indigenous traditional First Nations and Métis ketayak and helpers who understand the need to blend western and traditional Indigenous worldviews in order to live and move forward in this world.

One of the valuable Indigenous Knowledge Keepers who has helped guide and shape the Indigenous worldview has been Bob Badger, USask Indigenous Cultural Coordinator. He has worked on Indigenous programming in medicine and provided valuable advice and performed and guided ceremony as initiatives have moved forward. We are also very fortunate to have Dr. Manuela Valle-Castro, director of the CoM Division of Social Accountability, who is an expert and teacher in anti-racism and anti-oppression. She works closely with the Indigenous portfolio and offers anti-racism training in a variety of contexts.

Key priorities of the Division of Indigenous Health, that are widely shared based on the consultations and discussions to date, will be:

  • Community Engagement/Relationship Building
  • Faculty/Staff Professional Development – Cultural Competence and Inclusion
  • Inclusive Recruitment & Retention – Faculty/Staff
  • Curriculum Development/Enhancement (all facets)
  • Increased Indigenous Student Recruitment
  • Enhanced Student Success – Sense of belonging
  • Increased Research Funding

These priorities are meant to span all programs, departments and units of the college, so will require significant work by a dedicated team. The new division, working with the many resources of our college and broader community, is like the strands in a braid of sweetgrass: woven together, we are stronger.