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“Teepee teachings” artwork by Dr. Jennifer Leason.

Covid-19 and Global Indigenous Health Inequity: A Holistic Life Cycles Approach to Systems Change

by Shelley Wiart

Teepee teachings: The 15 poles represent 15 values including respect, guidance, humility, happiness, love, trust, kinship, cleanliness, thankfulness, sharing, strength, good child rearing, hope, responsibility and interconnectedness. This painting depicts the teepee and how we can lean on and support one another. A single pole left to stand on its own, would fall down. But when we lean on and support each other, we are better as a collective. These pole or values are needed to create a safe, and ethical space of engagement. If we do not live by our values, then we are not living in a true ethical space. Teaching credit: Willie Ermine. The poles also represent a woman’s ribs as the teepee is a matriarchal teaching.


With gratitude and appreciation of the following four Indigenous academics: Dr. Jennifer Leason, Dr. Michael Lickers, Dr. Carrie Bourassa and Dr. Lillian Dyck we were accepted to present at the upcoming virtual Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) being held November 16th to 20th. Our panel is scheduled for Tuesday, November 17th 12:30–2:00 pm MST. Please view our panel on the CSPC program.

Grand challenges: Covid-19 and Global Indigenous Health Inequity: A Holistic Life Cycles Approach to Systems Change. The following proposal is a summary of our panel (written and submitted by Shelley Wiart, June 2020).

Please briefly describe your panel proposal, detailing the topic of the panel and the various areas/ issues that it would cover.

Each speaker will discuss different life cycle approaches to addressing health inequity in Indigenous communities.
1) East/Child: New Beginnings. Dr. Jennifer Leason. Covid-19 & Gender Inequities for Indigenous women & LGBTQ2. She will discuss the impact that COVID-19 has had on Indigenous women, LGBTQ2+ and those affected by lower socioeconomic contexts. Specialzing in Indigenous maternal child wellness, she will include a discussion on Indigenous women’s maternity experiences during the pandemic including stories of resilience and barriers faced by Indigenous women, birth partners and communities during pregnancy, labor/delivery, postpartum and becoming a new parent in these uncertain times.

2) South/Youth: Curiosity. Dr. Michael Lickers. Covid-19 An opportunity to invest in Indigenous youth leadership and land-based cultural education. It is estimated that about 48% of the Canadian Indigenous population are below the age of 26. Indigenous youth face the challenge of interweaving Western worldviews and Indigenous ways of knowing combined with the loss of disappearing languages and the erosion of cultural identity and values. Being strong in cultural identity and practices including connection to the land, and community positively impacts Indigenous peoples’ social determinants of health. This pandemic presents Indigenous communities with the opportunity to reimagine their health and education systems and invest in youth leadership and land-based education and healing.

3) West/Adult: Journeys/Stories. Dr. Carrie Bourassa. Covid-19 & the need for race-based health data. Through Dr. Bourassa’s role as Scientific Director of CIHR’s Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health and as a member of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, she will reflect on racism, data collection, and health inequity and the impact of this pandemic on Indigenous Peoples and communities. She will address how to ethically collect Indigneous health data and build relationships with Indigneous Peoples to use that data in a good way.

4) North/ Elders: Teachings/Sharings. Dr. Lillian Dyck. Covid 19 & the importance of equity, diversity and inclusion in health research. In research, the concept of scientific objectivity and neutrality of the researcher is central to the belief system of the scientific method. However, this is an ideal to which scientists aspire and while it is an admirable goal, it obscures the value that racial and gender diversity in perspectives brings to scientific research. Unfortunately, most fields of Western science have been dominated and controlled by white male researchers, which has made it more difficult for BIPOC people to succeed because their perspectives were not valued and because of gender and racial discrimination.

Please justify how your panel fits into the selected theme for your proposal.

Our panel explores the theme of global health in a pandemic by addressing the multifaceted health inequities experienced by Indigneous peoples using a life cycles perspective. This holistic and strength-based perspective honours Indigenous ways of knowing, culture, relationships and community as keys to improving Indigenous peoples health outcomes. Each academic scholar addresses the health inequity experienced by Indigneous peoples in the spectrum of their life cycle from childhood to Elders. It is our intention to amplify Indigenous academic voices at this conference to counter Western scientific and colonial views of how to “help” Indigenous peoples cure their poor health with Western medicine. Globally, Indigenous peoples have encountered the effects of colonization, racism, and intergenerational trauma which have contributed to their poorer health outcome and shorter life expectanties. In the words of Audrey Lordes, “The masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house” meaning it is now time for Indigenous peoples around the globe to infuse their spirit, ceremony, cultural practice, cultural wisdom and Indigenous worldviews into colonial spaces in order to improve Indigenous peoples’ health outcomes. This pandemic is a portal to a new world order — one that honours our sacred spiritual ties to Mother Earth.

Please explain the novelty and importance of this issue in particular, in the context of the new realities of the next decade, for Canada or for the world.

The pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement are society’s opportunity for a deliberate examination of our global systems which are interconnected: colonization (the of process of settling among and establishing control over the Indigenous peoples of an area) linked to capitalism (land exploitation and extraction) and white supremacy (the genocide of Indigenous peoples globally). The structural, social, and economic inequality created by colonization and enacted through discriminatory policies like the Indian Act must be acknowledged by Canadians. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada calls on us to understand Indigenous peoples’ health disparities as a result of colonization. The Covid-19 pandemics disproportionate impact on marginalized communities has created the push Canadians need for a renewed effort in reconciliation to focus on antiracist and anticolonial approaches to Indigenous health. In order to close the gaps in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Canada, it is critical that Indigenous people’s voices are central to the process of reconciliation. This panel will share diverse Indigenous perspectives on how we can create a more inclusive and equitable future, and improve Indigneous health outcomes.

Explain how your panel would address any or all of the following questions:

This Indigenous health panel offers a strength-based lens of Indigneous peoples, our culture and the importance of land-based education and healing to improving Indigenous people’s social determinants of health. We will highlight the impact that COVID-19 has had on Indigenous women, LGBTQ2+ and those affected by lower socioeconomic contexts. Also, the impact of COVID-19 data gaps in race based data and why it is an important strategy for countering health inequity. We discuss the policy modification of how to ethically engage with Indigenous communties to collect and interpret race based data — avoiding using a defecit lens when interpreting health data. In order to stregthen academic and governement institutions, there should be mandatory trainings and policies for anticolonial and antiracist approaches to marginalized peoples health. Also, enforcing policies of equity, diversity and inclusion to increasing BIPOC researchers and therefore creating culturally appropriate research that engages Indigenous communities. We advocate for a renewed effort toward reconcilation in Canada as a way of addressing the systemic racism that exists within our colonial institutions, in paticular our healthcare system. The diverse Indigenous perspetives on this panel represent a multi-faceted and culturally appropriate way of responsing to health inequity for Indigenous communities across Canada.

Why are the proposed panelists the best to discuss this topic? Additionally, explain if the moderator has the qualifications requested in criteria page:

Our panel consists of four distinguished Indigenous Ph.D. researchers from across Canada that have extensive experience collaborating with Indigneous communities to conduct research and advocate for systemic change. They understand the complexity of Indigenous peoples’ intersecting identities of race and gender, their experiences of colonialism, and social determinants of health. They occupy positions of influence within academia and/or government, and will share their expertise in community based research and government policy. They understand traditional knowledge systems and practices that are integral to Indigenous peoples’ wellbeing, and will share the importance of these values for combating Covid-19 in Indigenous communities.

How does your panel fulfill the diversity criteria? Explain how this panel is gender-balanced and features provincial/ geographical, sectoral, generational, and other elements of diversity.

This panel is a diversity of Indigenous scholars with backgrounds in social sciences, epidemiology, public health, and neuropsychology. The Honourable Senator Dr. Dyck is a member of the Gordon First Nation, Saskatchewan. Dr. Bourassa is Métis and is the Scientific Director of CIHR’s Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health. Dr. Leason is a member of Pine Creek Indian Band in Manitoba, Assistant Professor, University of Calgary. Dr. Lickers is Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, Associate Faculty, Royal Roads University. Shelley Wiart is a member of the North Slave Métis Alliance, founder of Women Warriors and mentor for the Chief Science Advisor’s Youth Council (CSA-YC).

Explain based on the format you have chosen for the panel, how you would ensure the interactivity of the session.

We have chosen the format of a traditional panel discussion so that each Indigneous academic can share their unique cultural perspectives and areas of expertise for a holistic understanding of the pandemic response needed to address health inequity for Indigneous communities. Each speaker will share a life cycles perspectives on health. This format is culturally appropriate with a reflection of the medicine wheel and goes from junior academic to the Elder of this group. As moderator, I will record their teachings as they speak and reflect back to the audience a holistic view of their teachings. I will clarify any Indigenous concepts and terms unfamiliar to the audience and I will record questions from the conversation panel to ask at the end of the presentation. A summary will be provided of the actionable suggestions coming out of this panel.

Please list 5–10 keywords that describe your panel:

Covid-19, Indigneous populations, Indigenous research, data collection, traditional knowledge, social determinants of health, systemic racism, equity, systems change.

Early bird registration open until September 27th.

Shelley Wiart is a member of the North Slave Métis Alliance, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Please sign up for the Women Warriors newsletter for more information about Indigenous women’s holistic health.

Written by

SHELLEY WIART

Metis. Founder of Women Warriors. Indigenous women’s holistic health. Mother of 3 daughters. (She/her). Lloydminster, AB Canada.

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