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Senator Boyer's Inquiry - The Positive Contributions of Métis, Inuit, and First Nations

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Inquiry No. 3, which calls the attention of the Senate to the positive contributions and impacts that Métis, Inuit and First Nations have made to Canada and to the world. I would like to thank our colleague Senator Boyer for introducing this inquiry, as it is of great importance that senators, and all Canadians, become familiar with the critical work done by the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

I am pleased to use this inquiry to highlight the work done by three strong, intelligent, resilient First Nations women who hail from my home region of Manitoba. The tireless work and effort put forth by these women have improved the lives of First Nations in Manitoba and beyond for many years. While I would love to have the ability to highlight many, many more Indigenous women through this inquiry, I am sure you will find these three individuals very deserving of the following recognition and acknowledgment.

These three women, Dr. Catherine Cook, Dr. Marcia Anderson and Ms. Melanie Mackinnon, are leaders in the health field in Manitoba, specifically as it relates to First Nations’ health. While the positive impacts these women have had on their communities is immeasurable and the hours of dedication they have put into their work is incalculable, they are each incredibly selfless and humble individuals. Most recently, they have been involved in different capacities in addressing, analyzing and responding to the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on First Nations in Manitoba.

Colleagues, as you may know, similar to the H1N1 pandemic, First Nations remain incredibly vulnerable to the impacts of such a virus. Due to the crowded and inadequate housing and community infrastructure; the lack of essentials, including access to clean water in some instances; and the other myriad social determinants of health, First Nations begin from a position of severe deficit as they face the same pandemic-related challenges as every other Canadian. It is through First Nations’ strong leadership, spearheaded in part by women like Cathy, Melanie and Marcia, that has enabled First Nations to endure through the ongoing storm.

Of great importance, these women also work to identify and address gaps in programming and services that erode equity and lead to institutional racism. It is through the work of women like these that there exists cause for hope and optimism that these barriers can be detected and eradicated to make quality health care more equitable and culturally appropriate for all.

Honourable senators, the first woman I would like to acknowledge and recognize is Dr. Catherine L. Cook, MD, MSc, CCFP, FCFP. Dr. Cook is Métis and grew up in northern Manitoba. She received her undergraduate and postgraduate medical education at the University of Manitoba — her MD in 1987 and MSc in 2003 — and has been employed by the university since 1987. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. She most recently served as head of Ongomiizwin – Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing, and as Vice-Dean of Indigenous Health, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. She was also provincial lead of Indigenous health at Shared Health until taking on the role of Vice-President Indigenous full-time in April 2020 with the University of Manitoba.

Dr. Cook has focused on Indigenous health as a priority in her career. She practised as a family physician in remote Northern nursing stations for several years before focusing on public health practice and, more recently, health administration and management. She has taken a leadership and operational role in the development and implementation of Indigenous health programs and services that focus on addressing the gaps and barriers to equitable access to quality health care for Indigenous people in Manitoba.

At Shared Health, Dr. Cook co-chaired the development of an Indigenous partnership strategy framework and the development of a health care system that recognizes and addresses the need for comprehensive quality health care for Indigenous people as close to home as possible.

At the university, Dr. Cook took a leadership role in the creation of Ongomiizwin — the Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, which was officially approved by the Senate in 2017.

Dr. Cook serves on several national boards and committees, and has received many national and local awards, including the Indspire Award for Health 2020, the Calvin L. Gutkin Family Medicine Ambassador Award from the Canadian College of Family Physicians in 2020, the Dr. Thomas Dignan Award for Indigenous Health from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the WXN Top 100 Women in Canada in 2017, the Health Administration Award from Doctors Manitoba and the May Cohen Award from the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada.

Dr. Cook has been a strong contributor to the University of Manitoba, both within her home faculty and across the university. Her insights have been widely sought after by governments, boards and agencies, and she has excelled as a leader, an adviser and a collaborator. She brings this stellar record to her new and important role, as well as her deep commitment both to the community and to the University of Manitoba.

Honourable senators, the next woman I would like to recognize is Dr. Marcia Anderson. Dr. Anderson is Cree-Anishinaabe and grew up in the north end of Winnipeg. Her family roots go to Peguis First Nation and Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. She practises both internal medicine and public health as a Medical Officer of Health with Indigenous Services Canada, Manitoba Region. Within this role, Dr. Anderson focuses on health equity; health public policy; and Indigenous health, specifically focusing on Indigenous youth health, healthy sexuality, harm reduction and partnerships with First Nations communities as well as urban Indigenous and community-based organizations.

As announced just this week by the University of Manitoba, Dr. Anderson has been appointed as Vice-Dean of Indigenous Health, Social Justice and Anti-Racism at the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. This new portfolio includes her existing duties as Vice-Dean, Indigenous Health and will now also include the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, the Office of Community Engagement, and Social Accountability.

Dr. Anderson has served as Chair of the Indigenous Health Network of the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada and as the Chair of the National Consortium for Indigenous Medical Education. She has also served as Executive Director of Indigenous Academic Affairs in the Ongomiizwin — Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing.

Through her work with Ongomiizwin, Dr. Anderson has provided leadership to aspects of Indigenous student recruitment and retention; Indigenous health curriculum; Indigenous workforce development; safety of the work-learning environment, including anti-racism across the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. She also serves as the chair of the COVID-19 Health and Safety Committee and a member of the COVID-19 Steering Committee for the University of Manitoba.

Dr. Anderson was recognized for her contributions to Indigenous people’s health with a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in March 2011. In 2016, she was recognized with a CBC Manitoba Future 40 award in the teaching and health care category. In 2018, she was named one of the 100 most powerful women in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network. Dr. Anderson recently received the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health Award.

Finally, honourable senators, I would also like to take time to recognize and acknowledge Ms. Melanie MacKinnon. Ms. MacKinnon is a Cree nurse and health care executive leader. She got her Bachelor of Nursing in 1996. She is a proud member of Misipawistik Cree Nation in Grand Rapids, Manitoba, with paternal roots in Pimicikamak Cree Nation and Wabowden, Manitoba.

Throughout the course of her 25-year career, she has served in many different roles within the health sector. As a senior health care administrator and advocate, her work has informed regional and national policy shifts and generated new program mandates that seek to improve and protect the health and well-being of the communities she serves.

Currently, Ms. MacKinnon has two principal positions. She is the executive director of Ongomiizwin Health Services and head of the Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba. Also, she serves as a co-lead of the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

She is a published author and international speaker on organizational design and changing conventional culture to be culturally safe. With her peers, community and health leaders, she continues to advocate for the rights and equitable access to quality health and social programs and services for Indigenous peoples in Manitoba, Canada and around the world.

Her recent recognitions for dedicated service to Indigenous communities include: WXN Top 100 Most Powerful Women, 2021; the Circle of Excellence Award, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Manitoba Region, Indigenous Services Canada, 2021; the Co-Game Star 2021 National Hockey League Healthcare Heroes award, Winnipeg Jets; the co-recipient of the Dr. and Mrs. Ralph Campbell Outreach Award, the university’s premier award in recognition of outstanding outreach activities by a member of the university; and the recipient of the 2021 Frontier Achievement Award, an award that recognizes former Frontier students for demonstrating commitment and excellence in their career and community.

Her mission to create space for Indigenous knowledge and rights in mainstream structures continues to be guided by her family, colleagues, mentors and elders, of whom she remains grateful.

Honourable senators, I cannot say enough about the quality and calibre of these three women. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to recognize them here today to the benefit of senators and all Canadians.

Their grace, determination and resilience are qualities that I admire deeply. I uphold and carry these women and countless others like them in the work that I do in the Senate. They, in part, are who I reference when I speak of “the collective Mary Jane.” I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for not only what they mean to me but what they mean to all First Nations in Manitoba and beyond. They are proof positive, colleagues, of the power and capability that First Nations — and specifically First Nations women — can have in this great country when given the chance to thrive.

Kinanâskomitin. Thank you.

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