Amy Shawanda, PhD, Assistant Professor and Anishinaabe Scholar, Department of Family Medicine, has created a powerful cross-cultural workshop titled Paawaawaywin (Awakening), an alternative to the KAIROS blanket exercise. She has also received copyright to the workshop, giving her exclusive rights to offer it, a step which was important for her.

The workshop is aimed at non-Indigenous people and explores Indigenous history while also looking at the impact today including the health outcomes of Indigenous peoples in Canada. The workshop ends with actionable steps for those wanting to start or continue their (re)conciliation journey.

Professor Shawanda has presented the workshop to medical students across Canada. On January 8 (photo above), she facilitated the workshop to second year medical students at McGill University, alongside Indigenous Health Professions Program Outreach Administrators Joelle Majeau and Sophie-Claude Miller.

A testimonial from a medical student in Toronto

“Professor Shawanda’s workshop evoked many emotions for me. She first had us draw an imagined version of our own ideal communities. I was surprised with how quickly I became attached to mine, and how easily I could imagine myself being a part of it,” says Sara Ghandour, second year medical student from the University of Toronto.

“Professor Shawanda then walked us through a timeline of Indigenous history after the arrival of settlers, explaining how different historical events ripped into the fabrics of Indigenous communities, and asking us to rip up pieces of our community with each event. It didn’t take very long for me to feel the distress and grief that came with seeing something I cared about and identified with literally being ripped to shreds. I thought about the ways that colonial violence rips into the fabric of communities and the despair that it can cause. At the end of the workshop, we discussed how it would be possible to build back a community that had gone through all this damage. I felt a feeling of hope and resiliency.

This workshop was very helpful for me in building an understanding of the challenges that come with healing from colonial violence, both historical and ongoing, and in appreciating the resiliency of Indigenous communities. It taught me about historical events that continue to shape and influence the health outcomes of Indigenous peoples in Canada. As a future physician, I believe it is important to know about these things to build empathy and understanding. I believe workshops like this should be a mandatory component of higher education, particularly for those going into healthcare who may perpetuate colonial violence or take a stand against it.”

About Amy Shawanda

Professor Amy Shawanda was born and raised in Wikwemikong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. She has been immersed in Indigenous education and land-based learning since daycare to secondary school, then repositioned her strengths in Indigenous Knowledges in undergraduate and graduate schools.

Professor Shawanda has a background in Law and Justice and Indigenous Studies and her master’s in Indigenous Relations (both from Laurentian University) where her research focused on smudging policies in northeastern Ontario healthcare facilities. She obtained her PhD at Trent University and her doctoral work focused on Anishinaabe Motherhood and examining the challenges, tensions, and strengths of traditional teachings and pedagogies in a contemporary context. Prof. Shawanda has specialized knowledge on strengthening Indigenous ways of being, doing, knowing, and reclaiming. She has been teaching undergraduates and graduate students about Indigenous health, health care, land-based learning, Indigenous maternal health, Indigenous pedagogies, Indigenous methodologies, and spiritual health.

Professor Shawanda is also a co-host of Aanoodizewin, a podcast where expert guests from around the world discuss how different industries affect and have affected the health of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and worldwide. To listen to these podcasts, please visit: