Health authority, university develop culturally-informed program for Indigenous youth

A northern Ontario health organization and a university say they are developing a culturally-informed program that will prepare Indigenous youth for careers in health-care.

The Queen’s Weeneebayko Health Education Program will have a campus in Moosonee, a town on the Moose River, and will teach a university curriculum that will train students for various medical careers, including nursing and midwifery.

The Weeneebayko Area Health Authority says the initiative will help increase the capacity for culturally-safe health care that is directed and delivered by professionals from the communities it serves.

The heath authority runs hospitals and nursing stations in remote communities along the James Bay and Hudson Bay coasts, including Moose Factory, Fort Albany, Attawapiskat, Peawanuck and Kashechewan.

Queen's University, which is co-developing the program, says the curriculum will address health-care challenges Indigenous communities face and help increase representation of Indigenous peoples in health-care.

Enrollment could start as early as September 2025.

"It is exciting to work together on this new approach that will support Indigenous youth as they pursue health-care careers and build a stronger, healthier future for the communities we serve," said Lynne Innes, the CEO of Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Murray Sinclair, who served as the chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is Queen's Chancellor, said the new program will help transform Indigenous care in Canada.

"This project builds on a long-standing relationship between Queen’s, the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, and the communities of the James Bay region," said Sinclair.

"It offers hope for reconciliation through new approaches to educating and supporting Indigenous youth in pursuing careers in healthcare."

Students will come out of the program knowing exactly how to help Indigenous patients because they will be trained while being situated in remote communities, the organizations involved in the initiative said.

Students will also receive career counselling and access to prerequisite courses that will support their applications in health sciences.

The Mastercard Foundation has committed $31 million to support the program.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2023.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press