The Division of Community Engagement

Sean McKenzie, 2nd Year

MD Program, University of Alberta 

I am a proud member of the Mid Isle Métis Nation, which resides within the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw and Snaw Naw As First Nations of Vancouver Island.  I did not learn of my Métis heritage until I was an undergraduate student.  My father had just returned from a visit with my grandmother where he learned that she was questioning the truth about our shared family history.  Through research, he discovered that my great-grandmother, who was born shortly after the Northwest Resistance, had hidden our Métis heritage and that I was descended from a long line of Saulteaux and Cree women.  Originally, I didn't understand why she would have done this, but after spending time learning about Métis history and the intergenerational struggles that they endured in western Canada, I came to understand why she had made that difficult choice.  I believe that she made that decision, not out of shame, but in the hopes of giving her family a better life by passing as a "white" Franco Manitoban.  When talking to our local Métis community president, I was told that this was not uncommon.  In fact, she told me that she didn’t learn of her own Métis heritage until she was in her teens.  Her mother, like my great-grandmother, wanted to shield her children from the prejudice that was prevalent at that time. Thankfully, circumstances are slowly beginning to change, but there is still a long way to go.  

From the moment I became aware of my Indigenous ancestry, I embraced my heritage and began participating in my community.  By attending local Métis community meetings, I began to understand how important it is to learn more about my culture and to pass it on to future generations.  The Elders at the meetings are very concerned about the survival of our culture with today’s technological advancements and the loss of traditions. The traditional values and ways of life are being lost through assimilation of our nation into mainstream society. If the Métis nation is going to survive for future generations, the youth must begin to understand their culture, history and heritage. By being involved with my community, I can pass on our traditions, be a role model and help to provide aid and support for our struggling members. 

I have always wanted to pursue a career in medicine and I feel that being a doctor is the ideal opportunity for me to work with Indigenous communities.  With its Indigenous Health Initiatives Program, the University of Alberta’s MD program is the best possible choice for my education.  The Aboriginal community has suffered through generations of displacement, poor treatment and lack of access to medical care.  However, important movements have taken place at the local, regional, and national levels in order to better support Indigenous communities in meeting their self-determined/identified priority health concerns.

In preparation for medical school, I participated in many volunteer opportunities that helped broaden my experiences and view of the world.  These volunteer assignments ranged from helping children with special needs, to coordinating activities for seniors with dementia, but the most formative experience was my time with the Cardiac Alliance.  I was given the opportunity to travel to Honduras to help the Cardiac Alliance with their mission to provide heart surgeries for disadvantaged children in Tegucigalpa. I saw a world that was very different than the one I know here in Canada. The culture and language were vastly different, but the people's’ needs were the same. The medical teams used whatever equipment was available to give the children their best chance at life against very long odds.  The members of the medical team were very caring and empathetic. They demonstrated cultural sensitivity as they provided excellent care that respected traditional practices. We improved the lives of many young patients, but I still witnessed a child die after surgery and this reminded me of how fragile life is. Volunteering with the Cardiac Alliance was a very inspirational experience for me as it showed me that not all surgical conditions and equipment are the most current as portrayed in a textbook, but more importantly how medical professionals can make such a difference in the lives of people. This has really inspired me to help those in my Indigenous community. Just like Honduras, their conditions, medical equipment and access to medicine and treatment are less than optimal. 

After completing my medical training, I hope to return to British Columbia to provide support and work alongside Indigenous peoples in meeting their priority health concerns.  re. After attending recent Indigenous electives in my MD Program, I now know that I can provide my services as a locum to a variety of remote Indigenous communities. I can’t imagine a more satisfying career than one that includes outreach, culture, and community. Although my current residency training is not set, I have always had a passion for working with children, and a special fascination regarding heart related conditions. In the meantime, I hope to be a positive role model for Aboriginal youth.  I have spent over 8 years working with children. In that time, I have been able to educate and inspire children to pursue careers in science and healthcare. I hope that through upcoming teaching sessions and community outreach coordinated by IHIP at the University of Alberta, I can inspire Indigenous students across all age groups to pursue such careers. With inspiration and dedication, I hope that Indigenous culture will be preserved for future generations, while the communities themselves benefit from increased access to culturally competent healthcare.   

Learning about my culture, while having a positive impact on my community are two of my biggest aspirations.  As a proud member of the Métis community I also look forward to being a role model and having my voice heard on decisions related to healthcare and treatment. As I gain more experience, I hope to collaborate with an interdisciplinary team to develop a long term plan to improve the conditions of Indigenous community members. It will be a long road towards improvement, but just like my desire to pursue a career in medicine, I believe that dedication and hard work will allow me to attain these goals and to improve the health outcomes of the Indigenous community.