Supporting Health and Resiliency for Métis Albertans

Alumna Reagan Bartel is undertaking research and programming to honour the voice of Métis Albertans.

The upcoming Métis Week celebrations highlight the culture, history and achievements of the Métis people. As the Director of Health for the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) Reagan Bartel, MPH ‘19, works to strengthen her community through health research, advocacy and public programming.

According to Bartel, one of the biggest public health challenges facing Métis Albertans is the lack of understanding of their community and culture.

“The Métis community hasn’t traditionally been accurately represented in health research as we weren’t recognized by the Canadian Government until quite recently,” said Bartel. “We need to identify our unique [Métis] health needs and the drivers of our health.”

“Canada has a rich history and three distinct Indigenous peoples. That isn’t to say we don’t have similarities with each other, but a pan-Indigenous approach to services is a detriment to our community,” said Bartel. “If people don’t know who you are, it is really hard to support you.”

Thanks to an information sharing agreement with the Government of Alberta, the MNA can analyse the health data of its citizens. Bartel, the MNA department of health, and community academic partners are systematically approaching this data to uncover the invisible and unique health needs of her community and using it to inform advocacy, programming and policy work.

Bartel is also working to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into the health initiatives and research the MNA is undertaking.

“When we talk about health equity, we often have very Western approaches and rigid metrics that put up barriers for Indigenous health programming. If I am helping one person in a small community, that has a huge impact,” said Bartel. “The typical evaluations for health projects do not always resonate with Indigenous ways of knowing. If the community is happy and seeing change, but that can’t be captured in a traditional evaluation it can be hard to sustain funding for our programs.”

“Indigenous communities are incredibly full of capacity and are fighting to ensure their voice and way of knowing and understanding is included,” said Bartel.


Bringing Community Online

Community and culture are social determinants of health for everyone. Bartel stresses that for the Métis community, they are even more crucial.

“Everything we do, we do together. It’s a sense of community even when you’re alone, because you know if you pick up the phone your community will be behind you,” said Bartel. Community and kinship ties are factors that in terms of [Métis] population health help define our health and wellbeing.”

In order to maintain community connection while staying socially distant the MNA moved Métis health and cultural programs online. An example of an online event included MétisFEST where community came together to celebrate through activities like a jigging contest and allowing people to interact and hear stories from Métis knowledge keepers and elders. The program was led by youth, and Bartel believes it was an intergenerational success.

“An online jigging contest doesn’t sound like a public health initiative, but because of the pandemic people completely miss out on that connectedness, and it’s like missing a part of yourself,” said Bartel.


Public Health Education in Action

Bartel credits the networking that occurred during her time at the School of Public Health as being critical to her career.

“I was a mature student. The School of Public Health does a great job of mingling various disciplines. The teaching and support staff make themselves very accessible,” said Bartel. “Over lunch I could go have discussions about Indigenous health issues and formulate my own thoughts about where I want to take my career.”

Bartel also appreciated that the School doesn't restrict electives and that she was able to take research-based courses. “The School doesn’t close doors, it opens them. A flexible program like the Master of Public Health allows you to gain the skills that can take you in more than one direction,” said Bartel.

“I took a certificate in infectious diseases thinking I would never really have an opportunity to use it, and all of a sudden a pandemic arose,” said Bartel. “There are practical, technical skills that I can’t speak of highly enough.”


Métis Week 2020

Métis week runs from November 15 – 21.

Bartel encourages all Albertans to take part in the virtual celebrations.

“Do the work and take the time to understand who you live with,” said Bartel. “The community wants to build meaningful, authentic relationships. Regardless of your background, don’t be afraid to reach out.” 

For more information visit http://albertaMéétis-week/


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