Statement by DLSPH Dean Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown on the Discovery of the Remains of 215 Indigenous Children
I was horrified and heartbroken to learn about the discovery of 215 Indigenous children buried in an unmarked site at the Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C.
This atrocity is just the latest in a shameful and, until recently, largely hidden history of discriminatory, racist treatment of Indigenous peoples by Canadian institutions. This discovery must spur us to greater action — as a School and as public health and health systems practitioners.
At the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, we must work harder and faster to Indigenize our School’s educational offerings and research priorities and to ensure a climate that nurtures Indigenous students and all who are interested in learning and teaching about Indigenous health.
We must welcome more Indigenous faculty members, as we outlined in the 2019-2024 Academic Plan. In 2021, we will hire three new Indigenous faculty members, who will join the two full-time faculty members currently part of our School.
We will offer self-study options starting in the Fall of 2021 so that current students can take advantage of the full range of Indigenous health knowledge at DLSPH. And we will offer more mentoring opportunities to Indigenous youth and adults to nurture the next generations of DLSPH students.
We have created a new position at DLSPH: Indigenous Health Lead. This faculty member will have the resources to pursue these objectives and more, in collaboration with Prof. Suzanne Stewart and the faculty members, staff, Elders and students at the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health (WBIIH). I hope to announce the Indigenous Health Lead shortly.
We must do more to create welcoming physical spaces for Indigenous students in our School buildings. I will ensure that Indigenous faculty, students and Elders are carefully consulted as we work toward a rethinking of our spaces over the next few years. I am also grateful for Asst. Prof. Angela Mashford-Pringle’s work in helping to Indigenize Hart House Farm to become a more culturally appropriate space for her land-based teachings, and for her work training health-care workers in cultural safety. These efforts are crucially important to our School and to our country. I commit to using my power and privilege to remove barriers in support of our Indigenous School community in this work.
And, as public health and health systems experts, it’s our duty to advocate for systemic change. We must educate ourselves about our nation’s abuses of Indigenous peoples and the deep, inter-generational impact of these abuses on health. And I believe we must share that knowledge within the institutions we are part of.
I want to express my heartfelt sympathies to members of the Secwépemc Nation, and to all DLSPH faculty, staff, and students who are affected by this terrible tragedy.
WBIIH is offering an Elders Talking Circle and individual support this week. Please reach out to John Wabegijik at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, and please do take advantage of DLSPH and U of T resources for mental health support. And as you absorb and process this distressing news, please, if you can, take a little extra time for self-care and self-kindness.
Mental Health and Wellness:
Please be attentive to signs that students may be in distress. You can learn how to Identify, Assist students in distress and Refer them to mental health resources through this 30-minute training.
U of T’s mental health portal.