Indigenous Celebration: Not an average day in the classroom for future MDs
It had all the makings of a traditional indigenous gathering: a drumming circle, dancers, traditional cuisine and a sacred fire burning close to the water’s edge. But the Faculty’s annual Indigenous Celebration at Victoria Island on September 13 was more than just a showcase of First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures. It is considered a critical component of uOttawa’s first-year Undergraduate Medical Education (UGME) curriculum.
“Quality health care only exists when we understand the whole person,” said Vice-Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education Dr. Melissa Forgie in her welcoming remarks to students. “This includes understanding our patients’ culture and background.”
The Faculty of Medicine and the Indigenous Program support reconciliation by teaching Indigenous health and social issues to students as they begin their medical training, eventually contributing to culturally safe care. This annual celebration takes place within the MD students’ second week of medical school, and it is mandatory that all learners attend.
The day began in a more traditional learning environment at Roger Guindon Hall, where students were introduced to a number of Indigenous issues including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, residential school history, Indigenous health, and cultural safety.
“Given the history and statistics for Indigenous people in Canada, this lecture is very heavy for students and some of it is hard to hear,” says Dr. Darlene Kitty, Director of the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine Indigenous program. “The Indigenous Celebration is an opportunity to end the day on a high and to experience just how special Indigenous culture is.”
Following their morning lectures, students boarded buses and were transported to Victoria Island, which sits between Ontario and Québec on the Ottawa River—the traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation. It is a permanent home to an Indigenous cultural site complete with two large teepees that overlook Canada’s parliament buildings. Here they were greeted by elders from Ottawa’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
“I am so grateful to the Creator to see all of these young people here today,” said Métis Senator Reta Gordon, who has spent much of her life sharing her culture with the community. “You are the pride of your loved ones, but remember to be proud of yourselves.”
Also present at the celebration was a CBC reporter with whom students shared their feelings about the Indigenous Celebration.
“It's amazing to do things like this where you leave the classroom because you can sit there and lecture about it, but just having a hands-on experience, meeting people in the community, learning first-hand about different backgrounds, cultures, beliefs—I think that will really come through when we become physicians," MD student Adam Chubbs-Payne told the reporter.
This has been an annual event for first-year MD students since 2005.
“The University of Ottawa has the only medical school in Canada that offers a curriculum grounded in the three founding cultures of Canada which are, in this order: Indigenous, French, and English,” said Dr. Forgie. “In this respect, we are truly Canada’s Faculty of Medicine.”
The University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine’s Indigenous Program also supports the admissions and training of Indigenous medical students, with five students beginning their first year of medical studies. Visit the Indigenous Program’s webpage to learn more.