New Year, New Us: Meet the Indigenous Health Movement

The McMaster Indigenous Health Conference (MacIHC) is not a conventional undergraduate student club. Since January 2016, MacIHC has risen from its humble beginnings of a senior global health project to a provincial interdisciplinary conference.

MacIHC was founded by Sharon Yeung, Alex Liu, Deepti Shanbhag and Yipeng Ge, a group of health science students at McMaster University specializing in global health. The students shared a passion for Indigenous health and a vision of sharing the realities of the disparities in health and inequitable access to care amongst Indigenous communities with the Hamilton and McMaster communities. Upon completing their year long community placement, the global health students shared their newfound learning and experiences with the wider McMaster community, giving rise to the first student-led Indigenous Health Conference in Canada.

Since taking leadership of MacIHC, we’ve always strived to do the best we can and leave meaningful impact within our community with the resources we have. Last year was our first time leading MacIHC. We took a lot of chances and made a lot of mistakes, but most of all we learned from each and every moment. Without the trust and respect we have for each other, we would have been unable to reach over 150 audience members, be featured by multiple news outlets, and have keynote speakers Eryn Wise, Trenton Casillas-Bakeberg, Thomas Lopez and Cody Looking Horse, water protectors from Standing Rock and founders of the International Indigenous Youth Council, share the impact of lived experiences at Standing Rock on youth mental health and wellbeing.

We are still trying to do things other people think are beyond our reach in the hopes that we’ll still surprise ourselves with something amazing. We are reaching for the moon, and even if we fall short we’ll fall amongst the stars.

When you’re sharing underrepresented narratives of a history of violent acculturation and colonialism in hopes of evoking solidarity and making change, conversations tend to get uncomfortable. At the crux of change is vulnerability, where revolutions are only made with uncertainty leading the way. Though MacIHC is still young and succeeding at McMaster, we think we can make it bigger and better by continuing to “stir the pot” to emphasize an atmosphere of learning, but most importantly challenge.

As such, now the time has come for MacIHC to move towards changing the face of Indigenous health in a more sustainable manner across Canada. So, we are creating a new “parent organization” : The Indigenous Health Movement (IHM). This movement will continue to strive to be a community focused and interdisciplinary platform that engages with Indigenous Knowledge, narratives in health and learnings from medical practice to advocate for equitable access and appropriate care to decrease the disparities in Indigenous health.

This development will bring important benefits for youth, our present and future allies, chapter members, and most of all for MacIHC audiences. IHM is committed to delving even deeper into the dialogue of reconciliation and the action of relationship-building than ever before. Just as the medicine wheels represent the alignment and continuous interaction of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realities of an individual, the 4 pillars of the Indigenous Health Movement represent the interconnectivity of various aspects of our realities, including connection with ourselves through lifelong learning, Indigenous peoples by putting First voices first, non-Indigenous knowledge bases by incorporating Two-Eyed Seeing, and our wider communities in the form of advocacy. These fundamental guiding principles are highlighted below:

Read more about the Indigenous Health Movement Guiding Principles at: https://indigenoushealthmvmt.wixsite.com/seeingtogether/about-us

Building from the Anishinaabe concept, Mno Nimkodadding Geegi (“we are all connected”), the Indigenous Health Movement will be a collection of chapters across Canada that will each focus on advocacy campaigns, community learning sessions, as well as hosting their own Indigenous Health Conference. The most important aspect of this expansion is making the impact of our conference more sustainable in order to make community-centred change. We recognize the broad cultural and geographic variation amongst Indigenous populations across Canada, and as such, IHM chapters will be expected to work with their closest Indigenous communities and Elders to ensure the core values of IHM, listening and understanding people’s stories and histories, is maintained. This community centred approach involves having learning sessions lead by community agencies, focusing the Indigenous Health Conference on the local needs, and advocating using frameworks for health relevant to the unique community you are working with.

Our new phase of re-branding and expansion is inspired by feedback from delegates who are dedicated to bringing knowledge and partnerships back into the communities they are working and living in:

“I am a first year medical student at the University of Ottawa, and I would love to learn more about how to make an event like this happen in our region.”

In response to requests of expansion and supporting other universities to host Indigenous Health events, the Indigenous Health Movement will serve as a network for young Indigenous and Ally leaders to initiate reconciliation and understanding in the field of Indigenous health across the country. Our commitment is to the communities we are advocating with and for. We want to continue putting these communities at the centre of our work and ensuring we work together with community based agencies to support Indigenous care and community health.

We liked the name Indigenous Health Movement because it means an act of change often in a collection of parts or people, which is ultimately at the core of our vision: we strive to see health together.

In the coming months we are excited about…

  • Our new website!
  • Establishing conference chapters in universities across the country
  • Creating even more meaningful community relationships
  • Empowering youth to flourish and make change in their communities
  • Making MacIHC even better in 2018 with a focus on the unique health experiences at the intersection of gender and Indigenous identity
  • And hopefully, being one step closer to improving the state of health and care within Indigenous communities across Canada

Miigwetch! Wela’lioq! We appreciate each and every one of you for your time and support and look forward to where this journey takes us.

In solidarity,

Neha Malhotra & Hannah Martin

Co-Presidents | Indigenous Health Movement