Dean’s Message: March 2015

March 1/2015

Dear colleagues,

I am delighted to announce that the official name of the School’s Institute for Indigenous Health is now the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health. The Institute is among the first of its kind in the world and was created at the School in June 2014 with a $10-million gift commitment from Michael and Amira Dan.

Some of you attended the memorable spiritual ceremony and feast on March 23, which coincided with the spring equinox. For those who did not attend the event, let me tell you about why we chose the name and what the Institute will do.

The name “Waakebiness” means Radiant Thunderbird from the South in the Anishinaabemowin language. It was given to Michael Dan by Kalvin Ottertail, a medicine man of the Lac La Croix First Nations community in 2012.

The name of “Bryce” pays tribute to Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, a University of Toronto graduate who founded the Public Health Service of Ontario and served as Chief Medical Officer with the Departments of the Interior and Indian Affairs from1904 to 1907. In 1907 he issued a report criticizing public health standards in the residential school system of Western Canada where 24 per cent of students died of communicable disease, primarily Tuberculosis. The statistics became public in 1922 when Bryce published, The Story of a National Crime: Being a Record of the Health Conditions of the Indians of Canada from 1904 to 1921.

Indigenous communities are one of the fastest growing segments of Canadian society, and there is an urgent need to address the dramatic inequities in health stemming from the multi-generational cycle of poverty and oppression that affect many Indigenous communities in Canada.

We are all familiar with the way social determinants of health — including poverty, income and housing, among others — impact the degree to which we are able to achieve good health. In Indigenous communities, these social determinants are often more prevalent and manifest themselves in unique ways. For example, Indigenous experiences with diabetes and HIV are dramatically impacted by social determinants of health. Many will not be diagnosed, treated and followed in the same way other Canadians are. Improving the health of Indigenous communities will result in better health for all Canadians.

Under the leadership of Jeff Reading, Interim Director, and Earl Nowgesic, Interim Associate Director of the Institute, we will address Indigenous health inequities and contribute to thriving Indigenous communities. The Institute will identify and cultivate partnerships with Indigenous communities, support Indigenous faculty and trainees and provide seed funding to support pilot projects. This work will be founded on respectful, sustainable and equal partnerships between Indigenous communities and the University of Toronto.

The Dalla Lana School of Public Health has a longstanding history of research funding and faculty expertise in Indigenous health.

A few examples of our scholars: In 2012, Janet Smylie, Associate Professor at the School and research scientist at the Centre for Research in Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital, was named a recipient of the prestigious National Aboriginal Achievement Award, which recognizes First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals across the country.

Chan Shah, a Professor Emeritus of the School, won a 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and Order of Ontario for his pioneering work in public health education and being an advocate for Aboriginal Peoples.

Professor Susan Chatwood established the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research and is empowering communities and improving health outcomes in Canada’s circumpolar region.

It’s my hope that this Institute will amplify such efforts and build strong, meaningful partnerships with Indigenous communities and all Canadians to improve the health of all.

My sincere gratitude to Professors Carol Strike and Janet Smylie, co-chairs of the Institute’s Ad-hoc Academic Advisory Committee who helped chart the course for the Institute and Beth McCarthy, Director of Advancement for making this historic event a reality.

I invite you to read this Q&A about the Institute and visit DLSPH’s Flickr page to see photos from the naming ceremony and feast.

For those interested in learning more about the Institute, please e-mail wbiih@utoronto.ca.

Best regards,

Howard Hu