Faculty of Health Professor Sean Hillier has been appointed co-chair of the Indigenous Council at York University. Hillier is a queer Mi’kmaw scholar from the Qalipu First Nation. He is an assistant professor at the School of Health Policy & Management and special advisor to the Dean of the Faculty of Health on Indigenous Resurgence.
Hillier assumed the role of co-chair of the Indigenous Council at York University in October and has been working with Professor Ruth Koleszar-Green, special advisor to the president of York University on Indigenous initiatives and will take over from Koleszar-Green while she is on sabbatical.
“I would like to recognize Ruth for her hard work and commitment to the York community over the past 5 years. The contributions Ruth has made to York has meant a substantial sacrifice in her own academic work, she has done this so that we could have a campus that is more open and accepting of Indigenity,” said Hillier. “There are no words to express the gratitude that my Indigenous colleagues and I have for Ruth and we want to recognize the hard work she has done to further us along on this difficult journey. We are forever thankful and wish her all the best on sabbatical.”
In deciding to on the role of chair of the council, Hillier said that he wanted to give back to the York community in a meaningful way. “When I was an undergraduate student here at York, I did not see myself reflected here. I never saw other Indigenous students on campus and the Indigenous courses I took were all taught by non-Indigenous faculty, and I recognized this as a huge gap in my undergraduate experience,” said Hillier. “It was not until I got into graduate school and had Indigenous faculty and mentors, that I realized the importance of ensuring there is a strong and diverse Indigenous community on campus. I came into my position at York with the intent of helping to progress Indigenization, and this role allows me to do that in a more concrete way.”
Hillier came to York directly after completing his doctorate where he was studying Policy Studies at Ryerson University. “All my life I wanted to be a lawyer, to further the rights of Indigenous Peoples, but through my studies I realized the importance of understanding the interconnectedness of law, policy, and health and specifically in creating and understanding holistic health, in order to truly better the lives of Indigenous Peoples,” said Hillier. “This led me away from law and into the realm of policy whereby true progressive community orientated change can be made through having an understanding of health issues from a community-driven perspective. Taking a bottom up approach allows us to critique the colonial structures present in our society and in turn to make strong arguments for change at the policy level.”
Hillier is a former CIHR doctoral scholar in the area Indigenous Peoples living with HIV. His research focuses on how policy shapes and impacts access to and utilization of health care for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. He continues to work in HIV research and is an investigator with the CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network. Hillier is also a principal investigator and Executive Team member on the CIHR funded project titled, “One Health Network for the Global Governance of Infectious Diseases and Antimicrobial Resistance,” ($2 million) where he leads the work plan related to equity and diversity. He is an investigator and coordinating team member for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada-funded research project, “Imagining Age-Friendly communities within communities” ($2.5 million).
The Indigenous Council at York University is a body made up of Indigenous faculty, staff, students, and wider community members. The council speaks to anything and everything Indigenous on campus and related to the wider institution. “We are a body that gains its authority from our presence on campus, we do not derive our authority from any structure at the institution, instead the council seeks to give voice and guidance to the institution as it seeks to move forward with greater inclusion and understanding of Indigenous Peoples and ensuring this is done in a good way,” said Hillier.