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Stories | 10.01.19

Public Policy Student Shares Takeaways from Social Justice Summit

Narpinder Rehallu, a soon-to-be graduate of the Master of Public Policy and Administration: Social Change Leadership program in Vancouver, received one of Adler University’s professional development scholarships to attend the inaugural Lakehead University Social Justice Summit in Thunder Bay, Ontario from May 25-26, 2019. The summit was a gathering place for academics from around the country to share their social justice research endeavors.

Rehallu, who works as a co-op student on the evaluation team at First Nations Health Authority, participated in the summit with her panel presentation “A Framework: Deconstructing Decolonization.” She shared her experience at the summit with us.

What did you learn at the summit and how does it align with your current work?

One of the most profound realizations I had from the summit was about the comparative state of Indigenous health initiatives between British Columbia and other provinces. The transformative change that the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) is making for Indigenous health improvement is the first of its kind nationally, and the change is evident in how the regional health authorities work with FNHA to improve the quality of care Indigenous peoples receive.

This realization allowed me to put into perspective the work I am doing with FNHA, particularly around embedding cultural safety and humility into the local healthcare system, which you don’t see in all provinces. While at the summit, I heard various presenters discussing the culturally unsafe care received by Indigenous peoples and other minorities in Canada.

Were there any topics or thoughts from the conference that really resonated with you?

The Lakehead Social Justice Summit featured a talk by Anishinaabe comedian and activist Ryan McMahon, which further facilitated my understanding of storytelling and how it impacts the use of protocols with Indigenous peoples and communities. Ryan’s film, Colonization Road, explores the devastating impact of colonization and Indigenous displacement in Ontario as well as how reconciliation and decolonization can begin. Particular considerations of protocols are invariably tied to the work that I am doing as a co-op student with the evaluation and planning team at the FNHA. Adhering to protocols in our work doesn’t give us the right to share Indigenous people’s stories, but it gives us the opportunity to, if sanctioned by those who live these stories.

In so many ways, Western research methodologies frame our perception that other people’s stories can be converted into data for dissection and interpretation, and that the ownership of the resulting product crafted from these stories belongs to the researcher. In reality, this isn’t, and shouldn’t be, true for stories belonging to Indigenous communities and other marginalized populations, and it does not advance social justice. These stories and their data governance belong to those who’ve authored them.

Why is social justice important to you?

My work at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society (VAFCS) with children, youth, and families was instrumental in shaping my understanding of social justice prior to attending the summit. The need for equitable distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges is essential, especially when children and youth are involved. It is incredibly difficult to tell a child that they can’t attend a day camp because their family can’t afford the fees. At VAFCS, there was always an understanding that if a child would benefit from participating in the program, then they would be able to do so regardless of ability to pay.

Most amazingly, the sense of community at the VAFCS truly resonated with the saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” and it supported my belief that Indigenous children and youth should have the same opportunities as other youth. Learning about the social determinants of health propelled me to focus on educational and health as key systemic areas for change and cultivated my passion for social justice.

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