Learning About my Indigenous Culture and Ancestry Through Education

Learning about my Indigenous Culture and Ancestry Through Education

Editors note: This blog post, written by Tara White, Registered Occupational Therapist and PhD in Health Student at Dalhousie University, speaks to her journey connecting with her Indigenous culture and ancestry. 
Growing up as an Indigenous woman off reserve, I felt disconnected with my Indigenous culture. My father was adopted out of his Mi’kmaq community at a young age during the Sixty’s Scoop era and had little interest as he grew older to learn about his past, his community, and his culture. This aspect of my life was rarely talked about within my family, thus my curiosity to better understand my ancestry came much later in my life. In my high school years, I was connected with an Aboriginal guidance counsellor, who exposed me to Mi’kmaq culture and encouraged me to get connected.
I completed my Bachelor of Science at Dalhousie University with a focus on Psychology and Disability Management. I have always been interested in health and health care; however I was unsure of what I truly wanted to do after graduating. I applied to the School of Occupational Therapy at Dalhousie University as a last minute decision and began this degree in 2017. Through this course-based masters, I was exposed to the world of research in a way I had never been before. During this program, we were required to take various research methods courses, and I utilized this time to choose the topic I was most interested in learning more about: Indigenous health and wellbeing. Throughout my two-year masters program, I found my interest for research into this topic area grow. While working on my final research project of my masters program, which explored the ways in which Occupational Therapists can improve their work with Indigenous populations, I noticed my focus and interest shift from practicing in a clinical setting to pursuing a PhD and exploring this topic further
After being connected with Dr. Debbie Martin, I was able to make connections with more Indigenous researchers at Dalhousie. These connections have allowed me to work as a research assistant on a scoping review related to Indigenous health research, and as the Regional Coordinator of the Atlantic IMN, which both led me to gain a better understanding of where my interests lied. All the while, I was slowly creating connections with my own community, which have proven to be invaluable for my learning of Mi’kmaq culture and grounding myself as an Indigenous woman. My community has provided me with support in a variety of ways to help further my education, and after being licensed as an occupational therapist, I knew I wanted to form a stronger relationship and get involved with my community to help address some of the needs and health inequities they experience.
Currently, I’m a PhD student at Dalhousie University, and my research focus is in relation to gaining a better understanding of the experiences of Indigenous health care professionals across 3 disciplines in Canada. Understanding this can not only provide insight into the day-to-day experiences but can also help inform how to better recruit and retain Indigenous health care professionals, which in turn can help support Indigenous patients. Further, utilizing my Masters project has helped me better understand how to collaborate and work with my own Indigenous community as a health care professional, where I’m currently aiming to run a vocational training program geared towards Indigenous high school students to help students reach their post secondary or work related goals.
I am grateful for the connections I have been able to make throughout my education career, and how these connections have helped connect me with a piece of myself that was missing for some time. As an Occupational Therapist and novice Indigenous researcher, I hope to be able to continually find ways to work directly at a community level, but also a national or policy level, to make meaningful changes within our health care and governmental systems to support Indigenous Peoples.