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Mentorship program launches for health students

Alex McComber and Adriana Poulette will be making the Indigenous Mentorship Network for Health Research become a reality in Kahnawake and across the province. (Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door)

One of eight Indigenous mentorship networks for health researchers across Canada will be based in Kahnawake.

Funded through the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health and Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Quebec Indigenous Mentorship Network is intended to provide culturally-grounded support for Onkwehón:we students emerging in health professions.

“We want to knock down walls and get out of a box. Ask students to come and be a part of this with ideas they may have about things they want to learn that will contribute to their skills building and information growth, in order for them to become successful researchers,” said Alex McComber, director of the project, on Tuesday evening during the network’s launch.

“It’s open to all students. Students in art, law, or social sciences who want to develop skills in a broad category around health. In a holistic and Indigenous perspective around health, then let’s do that. It’s not about being in the laboratory, it’s not about just collecting data but students being able to express themselves and having a mentor who’s there to support them.”

The funding for the project allows fostering mentors and mentees relationships, as well as will be offering 200 $1,000 bursaries, larger scholarships for master and doctoral students, and an annual summer institute, with the first one taking place in Kahnawake.

“This is still being planned out and decided, but this is going to be a few-day event with a lot of workshops and presentation, and discussions and what we want to do, this is why we want the students to tell us what they want to hear,” said Adriana Poulette, the project coordinator.

“What would help you in your learning? Who do you want to hear from? We talk about this concept of mentors, you have your strong academic mentors, and you also have your strong community members. There’s things that people will want to talk about that aren’t specifically academic and it’s still going to benefit them in terms of their career in school.”

The federal government announced last summer that it wound invest $8 million over five years to establish the mentorship network for First Nations, Metis and Inuit health researchers as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.

“In working towards reconciliation, it is vital that we break down barriers and provide more opportunities for Indigenous peoples to enter careers in the health field,” said Jane Philpott, who was health minister when the announcement was made.

“This will also help us reach our goal of delivering health services that are culturally-appropriate, building trust and encouraging Indigenous peoples to access the health care system.”

The network partnership in Quebec is currently between Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project, McGill University, Universite Laval, Universite de Montreal, UQAM and UQAT.

McComber said they’re also looking to get other Indigenous organizations across the province on board.

“We have Indigenous students, not only Indigenous students from Quebec, but Indigenous students who are coming to school in Quebec universities and are leaving there knowledgeable and trained in health research from Indigenous and western perspectives, working together for the best, so that opens opportunities for those students to become the scholars in the schools,” said McComber.

“Ideally, it becomes something that’s student run, that’s run by the young people because this belongs to the young people who are studying in the different fields.”

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