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The McMaster student-run Indigenous Health Movement is encouraging education and reconciliation within issues relating to Indigenous health 

By: Meg Durie, Contributor

The Indigenous Health Movement at McMaster University embodies the passion, drive and dedication to social justice of this generation of Indigenous folks and allies.  Involving both Indigenous and non-Indigenous ally students, the group aims to educate others about and promote reconciliation within the area of Indigenous health.

The student-led movement and club, which started in 2016 and has been flourishing ever since, was initially a group project by classmates Yotakahron Jonathan, Yipeng Ge, Alex Liu, Sharon Yeung and Deepti Shanbhag. While their main event is the annual Indigenous Health Conference, which is organized in collaboration with the Indigenous Health Learning Lodge, IHM also runs learning circle workshops, speaker events and outreach activities with local Indigenous groups.

Current co-chairs Jayden Rivers and Alexa Vrzovski have both been involved with IHM in previous years. Both appreciated the opportunity the organization provided them to connect with other Indigenous students and become more involved in the community. 

“I joined IHM midway through my first year as a liaison position opened up. Growing up, I had little exposure to my Indigenous background. It wasn’t until high school that I briefly learned about [residential schools] and Indigenous colonization. Upon entering university, I wanted to expand my knowledge and become an active member of the McMaster Indigenous community. Through joining IHM, I was happy to meet and learn from other Indigenous students,” explained Rivers.

“I joined IHM last year as a last-minute thing to do while everything was switching to an online platform. I have been very politically active since high school and wanted to join a group that fought for the rights of [Black, Indigenous and people of colour] and IHM seemed like a great place to start. IHM also gave me the opportunity to be more involved in the Indigenous community at McMaster and [to meet] new like-minded people,” said Vrzovski.

An interdisciplinary project, the IHM team is made of a unique group of students from all across McMaster faculties and years.

“Something that I find special about this team is how we are welcoming of people with all different levels of knowledge regarding Indigenous culture and health. For example, I was initially hesitant to join in first year because I feared I may not ‘know enough’, but they welcomed me with open arms so I could learn amongst my peers and figures in the community,” said Rivers.

Not to brag, but we have an amazing team. Everyone has always been so genuine and kind and interested in making change in the world. If you are interested in Indigenous rights and health in general and want to fight against inequalities on a local level, IHM is a great student-led club to apply to!” explained Vrzovski.

It’s particularly important to Rivers and Vrzovski that all Indigenous students feel welcome at IHM.

“As reconnecting Indigenous women, Jayden and I also really wanted to make sure IHM was a really inclusive place for all Indigenous people, whether you live on or off reserve, are a mixed native person or you’re reconnecting to your culture for whatever reason,” explained Vrzovski.

A highlight of IHM’s year is their annual health conference. Each year, the conference features a number of accomplished and renowned speakers. It is a powerful and educational conference, aimed at promoting Indigenous voices and knowledge and providing opportunities to learn to workers and students in health-related fields. Typically, the conference is held in February.

As mentioned, IHM also hosts a variety of other events throughout the year that provide opportunities for both Indigenous students and non-Indigenous allies to come together, engage in activities and learn.

“We also have amazing, lighthearted events that allow allies to join beading circles or cooking classes and really appreciate Indigenous culture firsthand,” said Vrzovski. 

In all their events, IHM strives to better educate and inform the McMaster community about issues relating to Indigenous health including environmental health and the climate crisis. IHM determinedly strives to encourage reconciliation in this realm.

IHM will be recruiting more members in the weeks to come, with applications to come out early November. 

“IHM provides a welcoming space for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to learn from one another on important topics surrounding not only Indigenous health, but also community engagement and advocacy.  It’s been amazing to see all the different initiatives this team has facilitated the last couple of years,” said Rivers.

Make sure to stay tuned to what this student group has in store for this academic year and to ensure to keep learning and unlearning on your own time. 

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