If you’ve heard my personal story you’ll know that my life is like a patchwork quilt of living in different places. A childhood spent moving, teenage years spent wandering and finally dividing my time between Peru and Ontario.
Moving permanently to Toronto after school was not an easy decision, at the time it felt like I had to choose: Peru or Canada. I could not continue my work in both.
I care deeply about the work I am doing in Toronto, looking at how to integrate Indigenous health into medical education. I had chosen to be in Canada to give myself no other choice but to be immersed in the issues facing my own nation, and to recognize the role I play in perpetuating broken systems. I wanted to be fully present in my learning, and project. To do this I thought I needed to distance myself from wanting to act, engage or respond to events in Peru. But ever since deciding to look at culturally-focused health equity in Ontario, I’ve struggled to be so far from Peru and wondered about my decision.
Well over the last few weeks it’s become impossible to separate my Peru life from my Canadian life. In the Amazon there have been 3 major oil spills , the most recent of which occurred last week. I wake up to see more news about oil pouring into the rivers, not being cleaned up and I am consumed with thinking about the consequences of this…what it means for individuals, communities, the environment. (BBC article on oil spills)
It always felt like I was in a personal conflict of what place I was allowed to resonate and empathize with. Until today….
I got up early this morning, sipped some coffee to keep warm while I prepped for interviews about medical education at Canadian medical schools. How can we teach students about Indigenous health, giving them skills to be culturally safe practitioners who don’t perpetuate stereotyping, systemic racism or cultural bias?
I had a meeting with the local coordinators of Elder Sessions at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. We discussed strategies for collaborating with community Elders to engage students in Anishnawbe teachings and prepare them for working in communities as bio-medically trained doctors.
After we had finished our interview, I stayed to chat. I explained a bit about myself, in particular my background working in Peru, which led to my focus in Indigenous health.
Suddenly, without my prompting, we began engaging in a dialogue about the current oil spill crisis in Peru. It turned out I was sitting a table with an Anishnawbe attendee to a UN event, where other Indigenous representatives from the Peruvian Sierra and Amazon had been in attendance. Even in Thunder Bay I had found persons with whom I shared mutual feelings of concern, fear, and empathy for the issues being faced by communities in the Amazon.
With three months left of Studio Y I don’t think I’ll ever stop questioning where I am and where I should be, but I do see that I should never have tried to push myself away from continuing to engage and care about people in both the places I live and work.
I cannot be one without the other, and today showed me I don’t have to choose.