'Because we need to care': UAlberta occupational therapy students complete newly implemented Indigenous Focus

Department of Occupational Therapy students were presented with certificates for their commitment to delivering culturally appropriate OT supports

Amanda McCarthy - 22 May 2019

On Tuesday, May 21, nine students from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine's MSc Occupational Therapy program, including two at the University of Alberta's Calgary campus, gathered at Corbett Hall (both physically and remotely) to receive certificates for completing the newly implemented Indigenous Focus.

The Indigenous Focus, which saw its first intake of students in 2017, aims to facilitate a foundation of knowledge, attitudes and relationships that assist students participating in the focus to practice occupational therapy in a manner informed by Indigenous perspectives.

Students enrolled in this particular focus complete the regular MSc Occupational Therapy requirements, and are also tasked with producing a reflective journal with recordings of specific learning intentions and experiences meeting with Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, creating a portfolio with samples of work relevant to Indigenous Peoples, and participating in an extracurricular group that meets monthly to learn more about the impact of colonization on Indigenous Peoples' health and wellbeing.

Participants were also required to complete the Indigenous Canada Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), which explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada and complete a minimum of one clinical placement with Indigenous clients or communities.

Chelsie Clark was one of the students who chose to complete the Indigenous Focus as part of her master's program and is happy she did.

"I am happy to know that I will enter my occupational therapy practice being much more informed about Indigenous cultures, histories and the social and health challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples. I also feel fortunate that the opportunity to take this focus exists within this program. I hope it will continue to grow and be offered to students in the future."

The focus has been a successful learning opportunity thanks to help from Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine alumna and Métis occupational therapist Kaarina Valaverra, who assists with co-facilitating the focus. She also teaches the one-credit module Indigenous health and occupational therapy, a course that is open to all occupational therapy students.

"I am proud of our OT students and so thankful for our alumna, Kaarina. They've shown us that there is a demand to better educate occupational therapists in understanding Indigenous perspectives. The response by our OT students has demonstrated that the Indigenous Focus is important and integral, because we need to care and we need to understand and provide a genuine response to the TRC Calls to Action," says Shaniff Esmail, associate chair, Department of Occupational Therapy.

The Indigenous Focus was developed in consultation with the Indigenous Initiatives unit in the Office of the Provost & Vice-President Academic.

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the celebration!