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Reflecting on Pride and Indigenous History Months

Reflecting on Pride and Indigenous History Months

Across Canada, flags have flown at half-mast for the entire month of June, honouring children who died at residential schools. As we prepared for the month of June 2021, we knew there would be activities to recognize Indigenous History Month and Pride Month. It turns out the entire month has been shaped by the tragedies that have spurred our collective conscience. It was in late May that leaders in Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, British Columbia, announced the discovery of a mass grave with the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school. Now, as the month of June draws to a close, we have learned about 751 unmarked graves at the location of Marieval Indian Residential School in the area of Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.

The country has been awakened with collective grief and shame. We are more determined than ever to learn the whole truth of our national history, and to reconcile our past. We must seize this moment of heightened public awareness to push for the acts of justice that have been recommended for decades.

At Queen’s University, in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) we come to the end of an emotional month committed to do our part for truth and reconciliation. Recognizing the importance of this month, I want to thank everyone in who participated in the virtual activities that were organized by the FHS Pride Month and FHS National Indigenous History Month Planning Committees. Despite not being together in person, I am grateful that marking these important months was still possible online.

In particular, I want to recognize some of members of the FHS community. On social media, you may have met Baily Brant, Cortney Clark, Kyle Vader or Denise McRiner. The “12 Questions with...” videos helped us to get to know students, staff, and alum from Indigenous or LGBTQ2IAS+ communities with experience that spans the fields of neuroscience, physiotherapy, health quality, rehabilitation science, obstetrics, and health leadership.

Some of you joined us for the Sunrise Ceremony on June 21 to mark National Indigenous Peoples’ Day where we received traditional teachings on the summer solstice from FHS Elder-in-Residence Wendy Philips and heard about the history of the day from Dr. Jason Pennington, an Indigenous surgeon and new adjunct professor at FHS.

The ceremony closed with the singing of some traditional Mohawk songs, performed by Lakonikonraksani (Logan Maracle), a student in Queen’s Teacher Education program. We thank all of those who gave their time, knowledge, and artistic talents to help us celebrate the summer solstice in such a special way.

This month you may have noticed that many of your colleagues are now including their pronouns in their email signature and on their Zoom/Teams screen name. In solidarity with the transgender community, we invited you to add your pronouns to your screen names and emails, and I have been pleased to see how many people have adopted this practice.

While recognizing awareness months like Pride and Indigenous History are vital to highlighting our acceptance and work towards inclusion of these communities in our faculty, this effort cannot stop when the month ends. In our work as educators, health professionals, and learners, each day is an opportunity to become a better ally, to learn something new, and to make this faculty a better place for everyone.

With that in mind, this month we also launched the first in a series of tools that will support learning and working with a focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). The FHS EDI Style Guide is designed for FHS learners, staff, and faculty – and available to people beyond our community. Our goal in sharing this comprehensive tool is to make communication with diverse audiences more equitable and inclusive.

The guide provides advice on how to engage with issues concerning race, gender, and sexual orientation, among other intersecting identities, and will not only help our learners to feel confident in communicating with the diverse populations who they will serve, but it will also build a more inclusive work and teaching environment. I encourage everyone to book mark this webpage, as I have done. It is a living document and will be updated as language evolves.

As we approach another Canada Day, I urge you to take a moment to reflect on not only the history of this country, but also the hard work ahead. It is a good time to recall the opening lines written by the Commissioners who tabled the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 25 years ago, in 1996. They wrote these words:

“Canada is a test case for a grand notion – the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power, and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony.”

This Canada Day, let us commit to trying again, to live together in peace and harmony.

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