Indigenous Science Futures in the works

As part of the opening discussions regarding a new Indigenous educational initiative, representatives from McGill's Faculties of Education and Medicine met last week with First Nations and Inuit educators and Indigenous partners.
Kahnawake Survival School's Nicolas Styres learns about suturing with McGill medical student David D'Arienzo (left), at the Medical Simulation Centre. / Photo: Elliot MacDonald
Kahnawake Survival School’s Nicolas Styres learns about suturing with McGill medical student David D’Arienzo (left), at the Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Interactive Learning. / Photo: Elliot MacDonald

By Stephen Lalla

As part of the opening discussions regarding a new Indigenous educational initiative, representatives from McGill’s Faculties of Education and Medicine met recently with First Nations and Inuit educators and Indigenous partners of the McGill RUIS (Réseau Universitaire Intégré de Santé).

The two-day conference asked participants to imagine how an Indigenous Summer Science Institute could be organized and sustained, with the goal of increasing the number of Indigenous healthcare professionals to work within First Nations and Inuit communities.

Contributors from McGill’s academic ranks included Professor Elizabeth Wood, Associate Dean of Academic Programs with the Faculty of Education; Professor Steven Jordan, Chair of the Department of Integrated Studies in Education; Jim Howden, Director of the Office of First Nations and Inuit Education; Drs. Kent Saylor and Dick Menzies, co-chairs of the Faculty of Medicine’s Indigenous Healthcare Professional Training Initiative (IHPT); Dean of Education Dr. Dilson Rassier; and Dean of Medicine Dr. David Eidelman.

For nearly 50 years the Faculty of Education has worked diligently to offer courses that are reflective of their partner communities’ needs. Launched in 2015, the Science Futures initiative’s objective is to provide support for science education in local schools. Indigenous Science Futures is conceived as a focused initiative, aimed at developing Indigenous science pedagogy with youth from Inuit, Mohawk, Cree, Naskapi, Algonquin and Mi’gmaq communities.

“Our goal is to support the science foundations of Indigenous learners by implementing and developing a curriculum that is grounded in Indigenous values,” explained Elizabeth Wood of the Faculty of Education.

Through its work in the communities that comprise the RUIS McGill network to its inclusion in the undergraduate medical curriculum for students during all four years of medical school, Indigenous health holds an important place within the Faculty of Medicine. Existing initiatives foster the development of the knowledge and skills needed to promote culturally safe care for Indigenous patients through collaborative, hands-on teaching and provide medical students with an introduction to the history of colonization, Indigenous worldviews, traditional knowledge, holistic approaches to healing and social determinants of health. However, the Indigenous Health Professional Training Initiative has been created to strengthen the Faculty’s efforts in recruiting and supporting Indigenous students in health professional training programs.

“The Indigenous Science Futures initiative is an important first-step in enhancing the science education of Indigenous youth, creating more opportunities for them to thrive in health care professions,” said Dr. David Eidelman, Dean of Medicine. “Through a combination of strategies, our goal is to inspire Indigenous youth to pursue studies in health sciences and become part of the next generation of physicians, dentists, nurses, occupational and physical therapists and speech-language pathologists.”

Topics discussed included the integration of Western scientific doctrine with Indigenous methodologies and ways of knowing. Participants spoke about “Two-Eyed Seeing,” a concept developed by Mi’gmaq Elder Albert Marshall and defined as “learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous ways of knowing… and from the other eye with the strengths of Western ways of knowing… and learning to use both of these eyes together, for the benefit of all.”

Other subjects included the potential use of creation stories, land-based practices, spirituality, and traditional medicines. Participants discussed how to ensure continuity of efforts (i.e. mentorship, tutoring and shadowing experience) so that youth who attend could continue to have support in their academic careers during the program and school year.

The two-day workshop functioned as an important building block in this collaborative process. Representatives of McGill will continue to discuss the initiative with their community partners in subsequent meetings.