By Matthew Brett

The killing of George Floyd and the death of Joyce Echaquan sparked widespread calls for institutional change to address racism faced by Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) communities. We spoke with two leaders at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences seeking to address these systemic issues within the Faculty and more broadly.

Dr. Saleem Razack is Director of the Social Accountability and Community Engagement (SACE) Office, which is leading the Faculty’s development of an Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism, a framework of which is available for review here.

Dr. Kent Saylor is Director of the Indigenous Health Professions Program (IHPP), which hosted a November 2 workshop titled “Introduction to Indigenous Health Teaching” that was attended by nearly 200 faculty members. IHPP has a broad mandate with an overall goal of improving the health of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we spoke about how recent tragedies have sparked appeals for institutional change, opportunities for collaboration across BIPOC communities while recognizing differences, and about learner experiences with racism.

In Part 2, we speak about the importance of community engagement and community partnership. We speak about how faculty, students and staff can get involved in advancing anti-racism. Dr. Saylor stresses the vital importance of education and Dr. Razack stresses that fundamental change is required.

Both of your offices do really important community work, community engagement and long-term community partnerships as well. I think about the Eagle Spirit summer camp for example. I was hoping you could talk about the importance of community and the importance of those links.

Dr. Saylor. Before IHPP was formed, we brought our community members in. I think it was 2015. And we pitched this idea of IHPP to them – that we wanted to create a program to get more Indigenous medical students, and they said, ‘That’s great. We need everybody though. Why are you focusing just on medical students?’ That was very helpful.

Two years ago, we brought community partners in for a full day retreat, talking about curriculum. What do we need to teach about Indigenous peoples’ health? They were very frank about what needs to be taught. They were also very eager to have students come to the communities to learn on site. We (community members) can teach just as well as anyone else can teach medical things, but we also have the cultural perspective as well.

Those are really the main things that our community partners have helped us with, of guiding what IHPP should focus on. And they help guide us about what we should be teaching to non-Indigenous peoples and to future health professionals.

We had a recent conference call with them and we did tell them a little bit about what we’re doing for the for anti-racism activities, and they were very much in favour of us continuing and just very happy to hear it was being addressed and Indigenous peoples were not forgotten.

Dr. Razack. From my perspective, I think the model of community engagement from IHPP is one that I would like to emulate. It’s really been done very well – from the ground up. Our community engagement has focused a lot on the notion of recruiting students into the health professions and making links with schools and guidance counselors as a way of attracting students from underrepresented groups into the health professions.

With respect to anti-Black racism, we’re hoping to have a virtual community consultation event. For me, from a social accountability perspective, the very basic thing is accountability. You have to be able to communicate with the communities that you serve.

People reading this will want to know what they can do. For health educators, faculty, students and staff interested in getting involved in anti-Black racism or supporting Indigenous sovereignty, health and education – what would be some suggestions for people new to getting involved in anti-racism initiatives? What would you suggest?

Dr. Saylor. What we can suggest is, first faculty and staff, we actually have started our faculty development events. When we met with our communities, we asked them, ‘How can we teach about Indigenous peoples’ health? What should we teach?’ They gave us lots of suggestions and it became very obvious that IHPP cannot teach all of that at every single School.

So we made a decision to teach the teachers. We hope to stimulate the teaching about Indigenous peoples’ health at all the different Schools [within the Faculty], but it’s equally useful for current faculty members who maybe are not teaching in the classroom but need to know some of the basic things.

We struck an Indigenous advisory group to help us put together an approach to teaching an Indigenous health curriculum. This was to develop faculty development events. We actually planned for a half-day in person workshop just before COVID broke out, so we’ve had to modify that. What we’ve done in the meantime is we launched our very first online faculty development event on November 2, and we actually had a very good turnout. We had almost 200 people who attended. We have it recorded and it will be available on our website soon. So that’s one place to start.

We will have another faculty development event. Actually, Saleem and I need to talk about hosting a joint anti-racism event between SACE and IHPP versus just doing one from an Indigenous perspective; we’ll have to talk about that. And then we will hold that half-day event in the future as well. And all of that really is a focus on history and resilience of Indigenous peoples.

To me, that’s how you get over racism. You learn much more and you address the stereotypes. Now on our website as well, there are many resources out there. Some are articles, some are videos. […] So that’s where people can start, with our faculty development events, look at our website, look at the resources that are there and continue to learn.

Dr. Razack. Firstly, we’d love to partner on a faculty development workshop together with IHPP. Starting December, there will be Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Lunch & Learns. These will be one-hour virtual events where teachers will be encouraged to bring their equity, diversity and inclusion challenges forward and we’ll have an interactive discussion with a summary and take-home points, so we have a toolkit that is case-based.

I do think we need to give teachers a toolkit on how to make their curricula anti-oppressive, anti-racist and decolonized. Teachers are asking for that. Everywhere I go, people are saying ‘I want to change things, but I don’t know how.’ So, we have a lot of faculty development to do.

When we move into the learning environment, the real thing to deal with is microaggressions and allyship – so people who don’t experience microaggressions but observe them and want to be good allies can have the tools to act. Allyship is a focus of ours.

One of the things we’re trying to teach people is to engage in deep listening to struggles. This helps to really understand racialized perspectives and to make things better. The last thing I would say is that many different oppressions can exist at once. Don’t get into the oppression Olympics.

Do you have any closing remarks that you’d like to share?

Dr. Saylor. The main thing for a lot of Canadians – that includes our non-Indigenous faculty and staff – the key is knowledge. I have to look at Canada in general as not being very good at sharing knowledge about Indigenous peoples. Why are we on reserves? Why are there differences policy-wise for Inuit? What are the agreements that are supposed to take place? There are so many stereotypes based on lack of knowledge.
Dr. Razack. So much of what we teach is trying to get people to recognize social determinants of health. The thing that has changed forever now as a teacher is that a lot of our teaching now is about teaching within the system to change it; but I actually think that the big learning objective is that the system is not benign for racialized and Indigenous peoples. It’s set up to be bad to them.

You actually have to teach skills about recognizing how that occurs in daily practice and give people the attitudinal objective of changing that. That’s forever different for me now. COVID, the deaths of George Floyd and Joyce Echaquan have crystalized it. Medical and health sciences education actually has to change for a better future.



December 3 2020