A new Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health will open at UBC on January 1. We believe that the proposed Centre will significantly improve UBC’s ability to contribute to Aboriginal health.
UBC’s Aboriginal Strategic Plan was established in 2009 as the first part of UBC’s current strategic plan. It is intended to find ways of better supporting current and emerging Aboriginal initiatives. In the past, Aboriginal programs have often been marginalized: a primary goal of the UBC Aboriginal Strategic Plan is be sure that Aboriginal programs are better integrated into core university functions and budgetary processes. The Centre proposal is in keeping with this goal.
Addressing a Need
The proposal to form a Centre began with a group of faculty and staff in the Faculty of Medicine. That group was led by Dr Nadine Caron, the first Aboriginal woman to graduate with an MD from UBC. She is now a surgeon and Assistant Professor in UBC’s Northern Medical Program. Dr Caron has long been associated with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, the most highly regarded Indigenous health program in the US and a potential partner for a Centre here.
Also in that group were Professor Patricia Spittal, a researcher in public health, and Chief Wayne Christian of the Splatsin First Nation, who are co-Principal Investigators on a major Aboriginal health initiative. Also in the group were two Aboriginal staff members in Medicine, Leah Walker, a curriculum developer with the Division of Aboriginal People’s Health in Family Practice, and James Andrew, the Aboriginal Student Initiatives Coordinator in the Faculty of Medicine. Dr Linc Kesler, Director of the First Nations House of Learning and Senior Advisor to the UBC President on Aboriginal Affairs, provided support on the larger UBC Aboriginal strategy.
A New Approach
The proposal came out of the recognition that there were considerable gains to be made in education, support for Aboriginal students, and collaborative community-based research and services from a more integrated structure. A particular concern was the need to have an integrated point of contact between the Faculty of Medicine and the emerging First Nations Health Authority in BC. In its early days, there was a further urgency, as Aboriginal initiatives in Medicine were in a precarious state. The need for a better platform was clear.
As work progressed, a larger reorganization of the health disciplines at UBC began and the committee was directed to reframe the proposal to have a larger interdisciplinary reach. The committee was expanded to include representatives from more disciplines, among them Dr Lee Brown, then Director of the Institute for Aboriginal Health, and others with expertise in this field.
Reception of the proposal in meetings of Faculties and units throughout the health disciplines was very positive, and confirmed that the proposal addressed a recognized need. In a wider set of consultations with the First Nations Health Authority and other Aboriginal organizations and communities, further support was expressed and useful suggestions for improvement were made. A web page (health.aboriginal.ubc.ca) with the text of the proposal and an opportunity for feedback was also established and widely publicized.
As the proposal began to move towards implementation, Dr Louise Nasmith, Principal of the College of Health Disciplines, in which the Institute for Aboriginal Health has been located, was identified as an administrative lead. In subsequent meetings, the proposal was supported by the Committee of Health Deans and central administration.
It has become clear that the Centre framework and its proposed location in the School of Public and Population Health will provide a more sustainable platform for Aboriginal initiatives than they have had in the past. It is a major step forward.
A Clear Path
As part of the transition to the Centre framework, considerable attention has been given to the very valuable and tightly focused programs of the Institute for Aboriginal Health and their dedicated program staff. More stable and sustainable locations for their work have been established.
The Centre proposal was approved by the UBC-Vancouver Faculty Senate on November 20th and by the Board of Governors a few days later. The Centre will begin operations on January 1, 2014.
Aboriginal initiatives across the university are expanding and very considerable attention has been directed to their sustainability and future growth. Aboriginal students are better supported than they have ever been. The cohort of Indigenous faculty across the university has doubled, and many valuable new initiatives have begun. The Centre will expand the university’s capacity to respond to community health concerns, provide educational opportunities for Aboriginal people, and develop more productive partnerships.
UBC is committed to ongoing dialogue on all Aboriginal programs and initiatives at UBC. More information on Aboriginal programs is available here on aboriginal.ubc.ca, and more on the Centre, including the text of the proposal and an opportunity for feedback, is available at health.aboriginal.ubc.ca.