One-day conference looks at Aboriginal health and well-being

photos of Lee Maracle and Chandrakant Shah

As a way to help educate people on Aboriginal issues, several students have come together to create the inaugural York University Conference on Aboriginal Affairs Now (YUCAAN) this Wednesday.

The one-day conference is designed so that students, faculty and staff can come and go throughout its duration, says health policy student Julia Salzmann of York’s Faculty of Health. The student-run conference is sponsored by the Centre for Aboriginal Students Services, the Aboriginal Students Association at York, the Student Association of Health Management, Policy & Informatics, the Faculty of Health, Calumet College and the Office of the Echo Chair in Women’s Mental Health Research.

It will begin Sept. 26 with a traditional Sunrise Ceremony near Stong Pond behind the Ignat Kaneff Building at 7am and will continue inside at 214 Calumet College, Keele campus, until 5pm when a Sacred headshot of Robin CavanaghFire Ceremony next to the pond will complete the day. Robin Cavanagh of the Faculty of Environmental Studies will lead both of the traditional ceremonies. In addition, there will be a complimentary breakfast and lunch for those in attendance.

Robin Cavanagh

“One of the biggest barriers is education and one of the best ways to make a difference was through education,” says Salzmann, who co-organized the day with fellow students Amber Wynne of the Faculty of Health, Jonathon LeRose, who is studying theatre in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and Jolene John, who is pursuing a master’s degree in education, Faculty of Graduate Studies. “We wanted to educate people, such as those students in the Faculty of Health, who will be the health leaders of the future.”

This year’s conference theme will be health and well-being in an Aboriginal context, including physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, community and environmental health. There will be several lectures at various times headshot of Lee Maraclethroughout the day, and from 1 to 2pm, Aboriginal agencies from in and around the Toronto/GTA area will be showcased.

Lee Maracle

From 9 to 10am, award-winning author and instructor Lee Maracle will present the talk, “How the Spiritual Body is Connected to our Health and Why Aboriginal Cultural Traditions are Important to Rebuild/Strengthen our Communities”. It will also be the first talk in the Echo Chair in Women’s Mental Health Research 2012-2013 Women’s Mental Health & Well-Being Speakers Series at York. RSVP to

Maracle is an instructor in the Aboriginal Studies Program at University of Toronto teaching the Oral Tradition of Ojibway, Salish and Longhouse people. She is also the traditional teacher for First Nation’s House and instructor with the Centre for Indigenous Theatre and the S.A.G.E. (Support for Aboriginal Graduate Education). she is also headshot of Chandrakant Shahconsidered one of this country’s most prolific Aboriginal writers. Her novels include Ravensong and Daughters are Forever.

Chandrakant Shah

Other speakers at YUCAAN will include: York Alumnus Brittany Luby, who will talk about environmental issues/racism, mercury poisoning and its effects on Aboriginal Health at 3pm; Metis Jigger Ginny Gonneau, who will discuss her story on Métis Jigging (dancing) and how she is sharing her knowledge to keep the urban Aboriginal community active, from 10 to 11am.

Dr. Chandrakant Shah of Anishnawbe Health Toronto and professor emeritus of  the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health will look at bridging the gap of understanding: cultural sensitivity at 11am, while York Professor David McNab will discuss how mental health and wellness is a vital component of overall Aboriginal health, as well as research on an upcoming book, at noon. Shah was a 2012 recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for being a pioneer in public health education.

Jessica Danforth founder and executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) will address how today’s youth are reclaiming their right to display emotion through NYSHN initiatives at 2pm.

“I really think this is going to be an event that no one has ever experienced before,” says Salzmann, who is finishing up her degree in health policy.