Author Archives: erin menzies

Module 2.5: The competitive nature of medical school

In the article “Canadian medical schools struggle to recruit Aboriginal students”  some Aboriginal doctors describe the cultural difference between being a student in an Aboriginal community and being a student in a major Canadian medical school as being a major hurdle.

Coming from an Aboriginal nursing background, I was used to an environment that was very nurturing, very non-judgmental, very non-competitive,” she says. “You learn to be very comfortable talking about your struggles, what you need to work on to become a stronger person or a better caregiver. Medical school was very different. It was a very competitive environment… people keep their cards close to their chest… they don’t want to reveal themselves; what they see as weaknesses. I found this very difficult. My colleagues didn’t understand. When asked to self-evaluate, my colleagues thought I was putting myself down. I think my ability to talk about myself is a huge strength, it lets me improve as a doctor and as a person, but my colleagues didn’t see it that way. I found this very difficult.

There are several reasons for this cultural difference posited in the blog post, including the poorer quality of education students can receive on reserve, lack of modelling in their own communities, and also lack of respect for or integration of traditional knowledge in many undergraduate medical programs.  The article indicates that more needs to be done than simply recruiting indigenous students, but rather that the programs need to change to better suit/fit with the ways indigenous students already live.

Module 2.4: Aboriginal midwifery program halted

University College of the North had developed a Manitoba midwifery program with a core aboriginal focus in 2006.  This program, designed to help provide birth support to mothers in communities lacking complete medical facilities, or to assist women wanting a more traditional birth experience, was nationally unique, in that they were located far from an urban centre, and focused on admitting only indigenous students.

I have been interested in this program for many years, first as a student who desperately wanted to enter midwifery in a time before midwifery was a viable university program (UBC, McMaster & Ryerson Universities all now have well developed 4-year programs).  This program was plagued with issues, including having problems recruiting and retaining students, and difficulties having students deliver enough babies for graduation (there is a mandatory minimum birth attendance required).  Ultimately only 8 students graduated from this program, with the majority of them being non-aboriginal.  Instead of meaningful examination of why or how indigenous students were not attracted to or able to stay in the program, the province determined that it was best to overhaul the program and move it under the umbrella of the University of Manitoba’s broader medical program.

Based on the information released, it does not seem that this program was given evaluation to allow it to succeed.

Module 2.3: Indigenous Health Research Group

The University of Ottawa hosts an interesting website & blog called the Indigenous Health Research Group, which brings together a group of researchers (the primary focus in this case being local dietary and physical activity practices/habits) and indigenous communities and remote First Nations in Canada’s north.

I was interested in their blog and other materials because the research focuses so heavily on collaboration with communities rather than strict ‘intervention’.  For example, these researchers (a very interdisciplinary team) work to help increase access to traditional/wild foods, and help to encourage traditional cultivation, or to encourage things like the Bison hunt in generations who may not have experienced these traditional activities.  This helps disparate/isolated communities to regain their self-reliance and to diminish their need for imported foods.

Module 2.2: First Nations Health Authority

This week I was really focused on trying to learn more about the landscape of traditional health knowledge in Canada and abroad.  Another new-to-me organization is the First Nations Health Authority which is a BC-based government agency (or at least funded by the federal government) with the responsibility to:

[act as party responsible for] “the administration of federal health programs and services previously ​delivered by Health Canada’s First Nations Inuit Health Branch – Pacific Region, and to work with the province and First Nations to address service gaps through new partnerships, closer collaboration, and health systems innovation.​”

I found this particularly interesting because it’s fairly uncommon to see first nations health in the hands of first nations groups, and more rare to see the federal government step down from administering programs like this.  It also relates back to some discussions we’ve held in our Connect forums on the need to have first nations/indigenous voices really guiding the conversation on issues surrounding this specific population.

Module 2.1: LIME Network

The Lime Network, or the Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education Network, represents a group of New Zealand and Australian Deans of medical education with a two-pronged goal:

  1. to incorporate traditional/indigenous knowledge into medical education/practical training, and
  2. to develop best practices in the recruitment, retention and graduation of indigenous medical students

This model is very interesting for a number of reasons, but I think of most use in a course like our own, is the page they’ve developed to share Resources & Lime Publications.  On this page, the LIME network shares resources which include a collection of videos/curriculum frameworks and “good practice case studies” (much of undergraduate medical education is currently taught through case-based or problem-based learning).

Module 1.5 – Infusing Lessons with Aboriginal Knowledge

I actually went looking for examples of ways that indigenous/aboriginal/first nations knowledge has been transposed or infused into the traditional classroom in Canada or elsewhere, but didn’t get far.  I did find several examples of ways that indigenous teachings can be included in teacher training:

OISE at University of Toronto

Manitoba does have some resources for the actual integration of “aboriginal perspectives” into curricula, but I am not sure if that integration is mandated, suggested, or if this is simply provided information to be used at will.

Module 1.4 – Residential Schools

I wanted to get a little more background on the experience of living in a residential school from the voice of those who lived it, so I went to YouTube in attempt to find a video.  I ended up watching this TV Ontario Special which examined the past and present (although at this point the video is already fairly dated) of aboriginal schooling.

Module 1.3 – ICT For Peace (or, is technology neutral)

ICT For Peacbuilding is a really interesting website that looks at the use of information communications technology (ICT) for conflict resolution. I thought it was interesting to extrapolate a lot of their discussions on the neutrality of the internet/technology as it pertains to our discussions of these topics in this course.  The main author certainly believes that the question, “is technology culturally neutral”, isn’t even the question we should focus on, rather,

whether one accepts the neutrality of technology depends on one’s valuing philosophy – whether one tends toward the pragmatic and situational, or the absolute and authoritarian. Those who believe that technology is neutral argue that “guns don’t kill people, people do”, or that a knife can be used to “cook, kill, or cure.” Those who believe the opposite counter with evidence that technology cannot be evaluated in a vacuum and that there are traits common to all technological developments: (1) technological objects are unique; they are designed to function in a particular and limited way, and (2) technological objects are intertwined with their environment; they interact in unique ways with the rest of reality.

I do think that the neutrality of technology really depends upon the lens with which we look at each circumstance.  There are opportunities for individuals to represent themselves in the way they’d like to be seen. But it is certainly not clear to me if that means true neutrality or simply a manipulation of the cultural norm.


Module 1.2 – Tribalism

As an antithesis to Howe’s “Cyberspace is no place for tribalism”, I wanted to highlight this interesting journal article I found which appropriates the language of indigenous people to discuss the potential sociocultural benefits of being part of a “tribe” in the online world:

An Online Community as the New Tribalism: The World of Warcraft

In particular I was drawn to the concept that the authors of this paper would feel the best way to describe the building of an online world or community would be “tribalism” when World of Warcraft happens to have its own nomenclature for this type of group already in place (“guilds”) which would have probably been more natural terminology for an article of this sort.  This article discusses the social benefit to the use of joining an online “tribe”.  That alone makes one think of the significant cultural appropriation taking place, that articles writing about something as (relatively speaking) insignificant could feel comfortable taking the language of enormous swaths of people to explain the experience of community/online world-building.

I think it also brings up some thoughts about the way in which we see ourselves in online communities, like this? Is there space for indigenous internet users to actually build tribal spaces online that feel authentic?

Module 1.1 – The Impact of Digital Technologies on Indigenous Peoples

While I was reading the first article for Module 1, I got to thinking a bit more about the impact of  digital technologies on indigenous traditions.  I wanted to read more about beliefs and conventions surrounding how and when technologies, such as video (YouTube, Vimeo) or audio recordings (podcasts, terrestrial radio) are considered suitable for cultural and educational knowledge transmission.

As a result I came across EcoLiterateLaw’s page, which focuses on globalization and the transformation of cultures and humanity.  There the author discusses the uses and impacts of technologies and technology tools (as mentioned above) as they can be seen to benefit indigenous communities, primarily by fueling self-determination and self-identification, and by allowing for information and knowledge sharing online.  Furthermore, there is some suggested benefit to having the ability to participate in knowledge exchange through online chat or forum groups, that allow indigenous groups to meet and learn from other, more disparate groups, in ways that were previously unavailable.

In spite of all these highlighted potential benefits, the article comes to discuss the negative connotations of indigenous participation online,

…because colonizers are the ones with the resources to be in control of this information, the Internet, for the most part, is only a modern tool for further colonization.  And, there is always the risk that others, who have no stake in Indigenous peoples integrity or survival, will circulate stories, histories, cultures, and traditions devoid of respect for the principles underlying the veracity of those principles.  Although there may be reason to believe otherwise, history has shown that the stories of “[I]ndigenous peoples worldwide . . . have been told and manipulated by others, only to be reduced to fantasy, novelty, myth, and untruth. [Indigenous] knowledge was validated, discarded, or modified to suit a strategy of colonization, conquering both geography and knowledge systems.”

I found this quite enlightening and made me think of the concept of concealed identities online in a different light.