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Politics Feds fund mentorship network to support Indigenous health researchers

Health Minister Jane Philpott responds to a question in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 31, 2017.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government intends to spend $8-million over five years to establish a mentorship network for First Nations, Metis and Inuit health researchers.

The funding follows a recommendation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that all levels of government increase the number of Indigenous people working in health-care.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, who made the announcement Wednesday in Thunder Bay, Ont., said the funding will support the next generation of Indigenous health researchers and provide unique learning opportunities.

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Support from the federally funded Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) will create eight teams of mentors in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces as well as a national co-ordinating centre, Philpott said.

"In many cases there has not been a significant amount of research ... on the health issues that affect Indigenous Peoples," she said. "It is ideal if this is done by or with people who understand the cultural perspective."

Bringing more First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples into the health profession will result in more culturally sensitive care, Philpott added, noting it will encourage Indigenous Peoples to access services.

"I've heard over and over again terrible stories about the stigma and discrimination that First Nations, Inuit and Metis people are met with when they try and access health-care services," Philpott said in an interview, noting this is one of the reasons why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended health training to improve the cultural competency of doctors.

She said the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Thunder Bay is heavily engaged in updating its curriculum to ensure health-care providers develop a better understanding of cultural sensitivity and the need to combat issues including discrimination.

A spokesperson for CIHR said the program announced Wednesday is considered the first of its kind due to its mandate to offer training and networking opportunities to Indigenous researchers, an evolution from previous projects that did not include a specific focus on mentorship.

Later Wednesday, Philpott met with community leaders in Wunnumin Lake First Nation and announced funding for two projects in the northern Ontario community — $500,000 for planning of a new health facility and $465,000 for a reserve mental health initiative.

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The government said the health facility funding is viewed as a first step to addressing health infrastructure needs, adding Wunnumin Lake is one of three remote communities in the area where services are managed by the community but funded through Health Canada.

Indigenous students at Patricia-Keewatin District School Board were graduating at about half the rate of non-Indigenous students. So at Dryden High School they implemented a unique program with a graduation coach who works alongside the students - not as a teacher - to guide them through high school. So far the program seems to be working.
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