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McGill professors push for Joyce’s Principle

Joyce’s Principle – aimed at ensuring Onkwehón:we access to health and social services free from discrimination – has several demands addressed to educational institutions. File photo

A group of faculty from McGill University have set a commitment to work closely with the organization behind Joyce’s Principle in the hopes of moving the institution closer toward implementing it.

The principle – aimed at ensuring Onkwehón:we can access health and social services free from discrimination – was just adopted by the university’s family medicine department this September. Since then, discussions have begun to get other departments on board, particularly those responsible for the education of healthcare and social services workers.

The principle was launched soon after the tragic death of Joyce Echaquan three years ago at a hospital in Joliette, where she was denied appropriate care and taunted with racist insults.

“Joyce’s Principle is about being proactive, in a positive way, to learn and to correct. It’s not about just condemning and pointing fingers,” said associate professor Alex McComber, a Kahnawa’kehró:non in the department of family medicine. He’s among those in the department that pushed for its adoption.

Just last week, the Office for Joyce’s Principle came down to the university to meet with faculty in family medicine and those from McGill’s schools for nursing and global health. The university’s office for Indigenous initiatives and its associate provost Angela Campbell also took part.

“I would call it an internal grassroots movement,” said McComber, who said there’s a lot of support for their movement among McGill’s leadership too. “It’s bringing things together to start to look at that cohesive plan to bring Joyce’s Principle forward within the academy.”

The organization behind Joyce’s Principle, which works in collaboration with the Manawan Atikamekw Council, declined an interview with The Eastern Door. They did however share they intend to keep meeting with the group at McGill, calling last week’s meeting an introductory one.

Several recommendations out of Joyce’s Principle are directed to educational institutions in particular. They include demands for mandatory sensitivity training developed alongside Indigenous communities, removing barriers for Indigenous students looking to pursue higher education, and commitments to include and recognize the value of Indigenous knowledge keepers.

The meeting last week also included a discussion about how to decolonize the university and address systemic racism that persists in its policies and practices, McComber said.

An implementation of each part of Joyce’s Principle within the department of family medicine is still ongoing, he said. There already are classes led by Indigenous staff – McComber teaches one about decolonizing health research.

Inuk assistant professor Richard Budgell teaches another about the history and challenges in healthcare settings in Inuit homelands, with a focus on the Nunavik region in particular. McGill’s Indigenous health professions program also works to recruit more Onkwehón:we into the faculty of medicine. However there’s still more work to be done to get Indigenous-related curriculum into the faculty’s mandatory courses, McComber emphasized.

“It’s creating safe spaces within the academy for non-Indigenous and Indigenous to come together and learn and have this opportunity to transform through these conversations,” he said. “To give health professionals that important sensitivity when working with patients, who bring half of the expertise.”

This article was originally published in print on Friday, October 27, in issue 32.43 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.