McGill University's faculty of family medicine in Montreal has opened a new space on campus with the aim of passing more Indigenous knowledge on to future doctors.
Assistant professor Richard Budgell says the space will serve as a cultural centre for Indigenous students and scholars.
It will also be a learning space for non-Indigenous medical students as the university works to make Indigenous health a bigger part of the curriculum, he said.
"So that they're going into Indigenous settings with better knowledge of the people they are encountering," he said, noting many graduates go on to work in Indigenous communities or in urban settings where they have many Indigenous patients.
This comes after the death of Atikamekw woman Joyce Echaquan, 37, in a Joliette hospital in 2020. Echaquan had filmed nurses hurling insults at her.
A coroner's report found racism and discrimination contributed to her death.
Resident physician Jennifer Robinson says the new Indigenous space is a step toward preventing such incidents, but there is far more work left to be done.
"There is a need to have Indigenous people in the different primary-care settings creating and co-creating how we move forward to make sure that things are more safe for the Indigenous population," she said.
She said higher levels of government to acknowledge that need.
Front-line worker Nina Sigalowitz said she knows first-hand the challenges Indigenous people face getting health care.
"There always seems to be prejudice on the front lines," she said.
"So this is how the health of our communities are so much lower than non-Indigenous, because from the get-go we don't even want to go into the health system."
Budgell said medical schools across the country are working toward including more Indigenous concepts.
"I think it's a common direction for faculties of medicine and health," he said.
At McGill, he said the new room is designed to feel less like a classroom and more like a comfortable space that is welcoming to everybody.
It is set up "to make sharing and learning a little more informal," he said.
He said the intention is to have events in the space every month. Budgell is one of two Indigenous professors who also intends to use it as a teaching space with students, he said.
"I think it's important that we Indigenize the teaching of medicine," said Budgell.