By: Leah Carrier, BScN, RN, PhD Student – Dalhousie School of Nursing
The International Meeting on Indigenous Child Health (IMICH) was held in Calgary, Alberta in March 2019. This biannual conference focuses on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous children and youth in Canada, the United States, and globally. While the majority of conference attendants were physicians, there were also other members of the interprofessional team represented including nurses, social workers, policy makers, and community members. Thanks to the generous support of the Global Health Office and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, I was able to attend the meeting to further my learning as a graduate student and researcher in the area of Indigenous child health.
Since this conference was centered on Indigenous child health, it is hard to focus on a defining moment since most of the conference material was directly relevant to my research area and clinical practice as a registered nurse! I think one of the most profound sessions was a keynote address by Dr. Nadine Caron, one of the first Indigenous surgeons in Canada. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Caron a few years ago at a Dalhousie event and was excited to see her speak again in Calgary! One of the most transformative take-aways from her talk was that we should not be focused on trying to get Indigenous children to meet the benchmarks of their settler Canadian counterparts. Rather, as health professionals we should aim to have Indigenous children exceeding these benchmark and communities can and should be empowered to define their own health pathways to reach these lofty goals. This encouraged me to reflect on how often as clinicians, we take a deficit-based approach when working with Indigenous communities and other marginalized populations. By taking a strengths-based approach, using community-defined pathways to wellness, and aiming to exceed the limits set by a Western model, we have the opportunity to improve the lives of Indigenous children in youth in our communities. This was a brilliant way to start the conference and served to frame the conversations and commitments from conference attendees in a positive, creative, and optimistic way.
Another key takeaway that will have a strong impact on my research and clinical practice was learning about intersectionality between gender, sexual orientation, and Indigeneity. As an Indigenous woman and member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am aware of this intersectionality in my own lived experience, but it was really helpful to learn about other’s experiences working with children and youth and how to create affirming care environments for this population. For example, children as young as three years old start to become aware of their own gender identities and those of others. Health professionals have an opportunity to talk to kids about gender, race, and identity in developmentally appropriate ways, providing a safe space for children and families to explore these aspects of health.
Some great resources for people interested in learning more are:
WeRNative – Ask Auntie – these videos provide youth with an Auntie to ask questions about health, gender, sexual development, and other key concerns.
TSER Gender Unicorn – this is a great resource for working with younger kids and starting a conversation about gender and gender fluidity – interactive website that lets the user customize the unicorn based on how they are feeling about their gender and identity!