NOSM University (Northern Ontario School of Medicine) announced Thursday that Dr. Cindy Blackstock, an Indigenous child and family rights activist and a member of the Gitxsan First Nation, is the first ever chancellor of the new university.
Her appointment was announced in a televised ceremony held at the NOSM Sudbury campus on Thursday where several members of the new board of governors were also in attendance. Blackstock, who was not in Sudbury, appeared on a video link to hundreds of viewers at both NOSM sites in Sudbury and Thunder Bay.
Blackstock is a professor at the McGill University School of Social Work and along with 25 years of practical experience, she also has a PhD (Social Work) from the University of Toronto and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Dr. Sarita Verma, president, vice-chancellor, dean and CEO of NOSM University, described Blackstock as a "superstar" and welcomed her to the inaugural chancellor role.
Verma announced Blackstock's name but only after the audience watched a five-minute video where Blackstock did a voice-over that outlined her childhood in northern British Columbia and the struggles that ensued as she grew up, a child of the 1960s and 1970s.
The video commentary spoke to the inequity concerns of First Nations residents barely able to support themselves and their families.
After the formal introduction, Verma told the audience that Blackstock is still a champion for First Nations children and families, working to achieve change through human rights legislation and the courts.
During a media interview after the announcement, Verma spoke of the importance of Blackstock's role as a chancellor, saying there are three vital considerations.
"No. 1, she represents a community voice, a grassroots movement, that was the beginnings of our institution that came from community that truly actually speaks to the needs of community, children, the residential school survivors, health equity generally, not just for indigenous people, for all people, and but specifically for us addressing the calls for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission," said Verma.
Secondly, Verma said Blackstock was "a woman of courage" who sees the need for change and works and inspires others to achieve change.
"How often do you see that?" Verma asked and added that Blackstock has set a standard for progressive action.
"And thirdly, for me, there's a whole generation of women in this community, who are looking to be part of the solutions to Northern Ontario," said Verma.
She added that Blackstock's appointment fits in with NOSM's commitment to cultural diversity. Verma said there are still issues that need to be resolved.
"We face a lot of racism in our society. And in health, in particular, the issues of mental health and addictions of aging, chronic disease, and in particular, in a pandemic environment, those inequities have gotten greater,” Verma said. “And they're influenced by issues that are lack of diversity, lack of attention to cultural competence, problems with even gender differences, as you know, issues that relate to sexual orientation to Indigenous, Francophone, Black, all kinds of people, who have influences from the health-care system that actually affect them," said Verman.
She said if these issues are going to change it will have to boil down to people being more respectful of others.
Blackstock, who is not in Sudbury this week, will hold an online virtual news conference on Friday. Sudbury.com will participate in that event.
NOSM University has also announced its inaugural board of governors on Thursday. The group was welcomed by Verma and incoming chair Joy Warkentin.
“I am personally delighted to welcome such a strong group of new governors, and I look forward to serving with each of them in the coming year,” said Warkentin.
The new Governors will begin their terms on Jan. 1, 2023:
- Craig Abotossaway
- Imran Bagha
- John Beaucage
- Dr. Cindy Blackstock
- Angela Carter
- Dr. Kristy Côté
- Mark Hartman
- Mark Hurst
- Nancy Jacko
- Virginia May Katt
- Ashley Larose
- Sue LeBeau
- Dawn Morissette
- Dr. Shemer Ratner
- Susan Soldan
- John P. Stenger
- Dr. Sarita Verma
- Joy Warkentin
Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.