Black and Indigenous speakers were invited to share their work maintaining health and building resilience within their communities
By: Natalie Chen, Contributor
C/O Georgia Krikos
A virtual panel discussion titled Celebrating Black & Indigenous Health was hosted by McMaster Indigenous Health Movement, Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster and McMaster Students Union Diversity Services on March 15. The panel featured four speakers from Black and Indigenous communities, including Professor Juliet Daniel, Dr. Amy Montour, Andréa Williams and Chantal Phillips. The event also held a question-and-answer discussion for all participants.
Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster is a youth organization that aims to increase diversity within the Canadian healthcare system by empowering Black students who are interested in medicine. MSU Diversity Services works to unite and promote student groups on campus by celebrating diverse races, ethnicities, cultures, faiths and Indigenous affairs.
McMaster Indigenous Health Movement is a student-run organization that focuses on educating and raising awareness about Indigenous health, with the hope of initiating reconciliation within healthcare.
Abarnaa Illango, a health science faculty liaison of McMaster IHM, explained why the Celebrating Black & Indigenous Health panel was created.
While one aspect of the event focused on discussing healthcare disparities affecting Black and Indigenous peoples, the planning organizations also worked together to foster important conversations surrounding unity, perseverance and moving forward.
“Recently, there’s been a focus on solidarity and resilience within both of these communities, so we thought it would be really important to have a conversation with both groups involved and combine our audiences,” said Illango.
The panel featured Black and Indigenous speakers from various backgrounds and communities. One panellist was Professor Juliet Daniel, a prominent cancer researcher and the acting associate dean of research and external relations at McMaster University.
Known for her work in cancer biology, Daniel was inspired to pursue this field because of her own experiences.
“My next-door neighbour in Barbados died of breast cancer. I had known she had cancer, but she died in October of 1986. Then, about a month after she died, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Then, the same semester or a few months after, one of my professors Dr. Leda Raptis came to class excited about a type of gene called oncogenes,” said Daniel.
“Being very raw with the death of my neighbour and the diagnosis of my mother, I decided I should do cancer research,” Daniel explained.
Daniel’s research exploring triple-negative breast cancer, a disease that disproportionately affects young women of African ancestry and Hispanic women at a higher rate, was inspired by her desire to give back to communities within the Caribbean and her interest in addressing health disparities affecting marginalized populations.
The opportunity to learn about these experiences and listen to unique perspectives from all the speakers was a highlight of the event for many participants.
“There were so many great moments and each of the speakers talked about very different topics, but they all were very connected, which was great. A lot of [the speakers] shared their personal stories, which was very impactful,” explained Illango.
In addition to expressing her gratitude for hearing others’ stories of resilience, Daniel also shared her desire for more individuals to attend these events and for similar panels to be held in the future.
“I wish more people had been there to understand how Black, Indigenous and racialized people are impacted by these colonial systems in healthcare, in particular, and how people are so traumatized. But we still keep on working, we keep on doing what we do as best as we can, despite the trauma,” said Daniel.
Correction: April 13, 2021
An earlier version of this article misstated an explanation of oncogenes. This has now been corrected.