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Understanding our communities better

Courtesy Brittany Wenniserí:iostha Jock

Seven new Indigenous staff members were celebrated during McGill University’s fourth edition Indigenous Faculty and Staff Welcome Ceremony on February 14.

Among them was Kanien’kehá:ka Dr. Brittany Wenniserí:iostha Jock, whose research supports food sovereignty and aims to respond to the obesity and chronic disease inequities in Indigenous communities.

Although the ceremony took place recently, Jock started at McGill as an assistant professor in January 2021 in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and School of Human Nutrition.

“I have really enjoyed the experience. It’s really amazing to be able to develop my own research and to be able to start to teach other people – introduce nutrition students and other students in the faculty to these Indigenous issues,” said Jock, a member of the bear clan from Akwesasne.

“I am very glad and happy to be with other Indigenous colleagues. I feel very fortunate to be in such as supportive place.”

Jock obtained her Master’s in Epidemiology and her Ph.D. in Social and Behavioural Interventions at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She is currently affiliated with the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment, which has a history of working in partnership with Indigenous communities and supports food sovereignty.

“My research (in Social and Behavioural Interventions) is about how we develop, implement and evaluate programs. It uses qualitative research methods and epidemiology, which is more on the quantitative side to address obesity and associated chronic diseases,” she said.

Jock explained that qualitative research is an important tool when working with Indigenous communities. It consists of the analysis of textual data, which is often gathered through one-on-one interviews and modified talking circles to understand peoples’ stories, perspectives and experiences.

“My research is really along four areas, so it is first understanding nutrition status and looking at obesity prevention and intervention and then developing trauma-informed ways of working with Indigenous communities.

“It is also looking at policy systems and environmental approaches for obesity and then social determinants of health for Indigenous Peoples, so that includes historical trauma,” said the doctor.

Historically, Indigenous communities across Turtle Island have had very high rates of diabetes, obesity and related chronic diseases compared to other communities.

Jock spoke about the concept of nutrition transition and said that it has been a major factor in contributing to the prevalence of obesity and other chronic diseases.

“This is really saying that there’s been a transition from traditional food systems to these highly processed western food systems that are predominantly high sugar, high salt and high fat,” she said.

Other factors that contribute to that shift include economics, environmental contamination and trauma, according to Jock.

“When people went to residential schools, the express purpose was to ‘kill the Indian, save the child.’ Food is culture, so part of ridding us of that culture is ridding us of our ties to the land and understanding our relationship to the land. That was the purpose,” said Jock.

Consequently, she said that food accessibility and education play an important role in supporting Indigenous health equity.

“We should be having good health status and address that health status. The way we do that is by increasing access to traditional foods and supporting our traditional food systems, and Indigenous food sovereignty.”


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