Thilaxcy Yohathasan: It’s Not the Way Things are Supposed to Be
By Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer at DLSPH
Thilaxcy Yohathasan’s journey to an MPH in Indigenous Health took many turns. She studied political science and planned to attend law school until a chance conversation with a roommate changed the course of her education and career.
In a second-year class, she learned about the lack of clean drinking water in Indigenous reserves. “I thought that it was ludicrous because it’s supposed to be a basic human right,” says Yohathasan.
The revelation ignited a passion in her. “That’s not the way things are supposed to be,” she recalls thinking. “I wanted more information about it. I took a course in fourth year at York, and it was a professor in that course, Dr. Elliott, who pushed me towards public health and Indigenous health.”
DLSPH Communications Officer Francoise Makanda recently spoke with Yohathasan about her future plans.
What are your impressions of the program?
I like Indigenous health because it is a mix of health promotion with Indigenous health aspects. Being able to balance both of those subject areas is really helpful in my work, but also in my understanding of things. Classes are smaller, they’re more connected, there’s more of a sense of community. The subject matter is very different. It’s taught very differently too. Health promotion courses are a bit larger and I interact with the DLSPH community a bit more in those classes.
But those classes have been running for decades now. Balancing both a brand-new program of Indigenous health and decades-long non-Indigenous teachings, seeing how those intersect, has been really interesting.
What was your biggest takeaway from the program?
It’s something that I came in with but it has just been reinforced. It’s the idea of collaboration and community building and approaching your relationships with honesty, and kindness and humility.
I think having that, being able to personify that and say that through your words, or through your emails, with your papers, that’s been really helpful for me in terms of making better connections with folks.
In terms of learning, public health is great because there is not one person that knows all of it, because there are so many streams. So, it’s being able to say, “Yeah, I don’t know that, but let me bring in someone who does” or “I don’t know, please tell me about it.”
What’s missing in the conversations about Indigenous health within the university setting?
There needs to be more Indigenous scholars. There is capacity but there needs to be capacity in the right places. Yeah, there is a lot of knowledge, and it just needs to be reflected in university settings as well. There are a couple of new hires at Waakebiness-Bryce, which is really exciting. So, the capacity is growing there, and it’s really great to see it.
I’d love to see 10 years from now that the research institute just be overcapacity if you will.
Is there anything that you didn’t get the chance to do in your program that you regret not being able to do?
I didn’t get a chance to cement my friendships and relationships with my peers and my professors.
I technically didn’t even finish a full first year because the pandemic cut it off. There was still a month that I could have had, that I missed out on.
Otherwise, I think I checked off a lot of things on my bucket list that I wanted to do here. I wanted to somehow write a paper which I did with Dr. Mashford-Pringle and the Public Health Agency of Canada on top of seeing new things and learn new things. I’ve also been in quite a bit of committee too like the DLSPH student-led conference
I’m lucky enough that my experience has been very fulfilling.
What does the future hold for you?
I’m working at the Indigenous Early Learning and Childcare Secretariat at Employment and Social Development Canada. I know quite a few peers at DLSPH that have also landed these government jobs. It’s pretty exciting to see some of us have ended up in that sphere.
It’s a really great place for me to be ‘post’ this degree. I’m also still a research assistant in Dr. Angela Mashford-Pringle’s lab. I’m helping out with a bit of stuff like the cultural safety courses and the MPH-IH.
I have learned to say yes to everything, but also to ask for things. To even get on the PHAC report, I just emailed Dr. Mashford-Pringle being like “hey, do you have any projects I can work on,” and she just pulled me in.
For whatever reason, I was like, let me just ask and see. I haven’t quite thought through how this intersects with my identity, but just being able to take up space and saying, “Can I help out with something” and fighting down imposter syndrome. “I am competent enough to ask, I am valuable, and I should be able to assist in these places.”
Yeah, it’s been a bit of a learning curve for me, getting that confidence, especially with so many talented folks around me — it just is scary. But, it’s really great.
My next steps are to hone my interests. I would say Indigenous health is a strong interest of mine and I’m very passionate about it. I don’t know if that is my only interest, though, because I still have some form of lawyer-type speculation in my mind.