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St. Michael's researcher Janet Smylie to receive Aboriginal Achievement Award

Toronto, November 22, 2011

Dr. Janet Smylie
Dr. Janet Smylie

Janet Smylie is one of 15 outstanding Canadians who will receive a 19th annual National Aboriginal Achievement Award. The awards were announced today (Nov. 22) in the House of Commons. The Awards celebrate excellence in the Indigenous community and the limitless potential that Indigenous people represent.

Dr. Smylie is a Métis family physician and a research scientist at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. She has done extensive research on the health of young Aboriginal families and maintains a part-time clinical practice at Seventh Generation Midwives of Toronto.

Dr. Smylie recently answered questions about her career and her research:

Q. What are you currently working on?

A. I’m working with St. Michael’s Hospital and college of Aboriginal grandparents on developing a knowledge centre for Aboriginal infants, children, and their families. The centre would help ensure that policies, services, and programs are benefiting from information and information tools of the highest quality according to the dual criteria of Aboriginal community relevance and scientific excellence.

There is a lot of very relevant and effective local First Nations, Inuit, and Métis knowledge and practices regarding birthing, parenting and child development, for example, that can be supported as a core part of health programming and services for young Aboriginal families. From a public health perspective, the scope and quality of information regarding the health determinants and health outcomes of Aboriginal infants, children, mothers and fathers, as well as the quality and relevance of program and service evaluations, are inconsistent. There is an urgent need for improved methods.

I am also busy leading or co-leading a number of projects including the final reporting for a project that involved collecting and linking survey data for three urban Aboriginal populations in Ontario. This project used a novel sampling method called respondent driven sampling, which uses social networks to identify otherwise hard to find populations. In addition, I am working with an international team on developing and evaluating ways of helping Indigenous people with heart disease improve their knowledge of their prescription medications and supporting and evaluating a “knowledge network” (a group of people who come together to share information to solve a specific set of problems) as a tool for gathering and applying Indigenous and public health knowledge to front line infant, child, and family programming.

Q. What are your career highlights so far?

A. There are many. I have been extremely fortunate with respect to career opportunities:

  • Graduating from medical school wearing a ribbon dress that a friend helped me design
  • Having the opportunity to bring hundreds of new lives into this world as a family doctor practicing obstetrics
  • Listening to the stories of thousands of people as a family doctor and continually being impressed by the diversity, creativity, and strength with which people cope with adverse health issues
  • Having the opportunity to work with elders and healers in my clinical practice, research, and personal life
  • Having the opportunity to direct the Indigenous Peoples Health Research Centre in Saskatchewan
  • Having the opportunity to join the team at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health in Toronto and collaborate with some of the world's most pre-eminent scientists in the area of addressing health inequities
  • Having the opportunity to partner with multiple Aboriginal communities and organizations on health research projects.

Q. How can we get more Aboriginal people working in sciences and research?

A. There are several strategies:

  • Improve the quality of science teaching Aboriginal children receive in primary and secondary school.
  • Address systemic and attitudinal racism in our public education system. End food insecurity for all children in Canada.
  • Make the links between Indigenous science and mainstream science in science curriculum from preschool to postgraduate studies.
  • Recognize and nourish aptitudes for science in young children.
  • Support systematic strategies such as housing and educational initiatives for Aboriginal parents so that parents can focus on supporting their children without the distraction of worrying about unstable housing and a lack of employment opportunities.
  • Tell every child that they can achieve their dream of becoming a scientist if they set their mind to it.