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Marcia Anderson

Dr. Marcia Anderson to receive Order of Manitoba

June 13, 2024 — 

Twelve Manitobans will soon receive the province’s highest honour, the Order of Manitoba, recognizing a high level of individual excellence and achievement.

This year’s honorees include Dr. Marcia Anderson, vice-dean Indigenous health, social justice and anti-racism at Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. The formal investiture ceremony will be held on July 11 at the Legislative Building.

A nationally renowned physician and an influential academic leader, Anderson  served as the public health lead for Manitoba’s First Nations COVID-19 pandemic response team and has been credited with mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in First Nations communities throughout Manitoba through collaborative leadership, clinical excellence and strong relationships

The Cree-Anishinaabe physician has won many awards over her career Including the 2011 National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now known as the Indspire Awards) and being named as one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2018 by Women’s Executive Network and again in 2022.

In 2021, Anderson received the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada’s Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health Award. In 2022, she was recognized as Physician of the Year by Doctors Manitoba and awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada Manitoba region.

UM Today asked Anderson to share her thoughts on this most recent impressive award, the Order of Manitoba, and her goals for the future.

How does it feel to be recognized with such a prestigious honour and what does this award mean to you personally?

I was extremely honoured when my friend and colleague senator Dr. Gigi Osler approached me for my consent to be nominated.

I looked at the list of previous recipients, which includes people like former national chiefs Ovide Mercredi and Phil Fontaine. It’s almost overwhelming to be considered as having contributed in a way that would put me in that company,  and to be inducted in the same year as the Honourable Murray Sinclair. He is someone I deeply admire and have learned extensively from.

I am incredibly grateful for the teams of people I work with – it is the team that makes our contributions possible.

In addition to feeling honoured, I feel an enormous responsibility to live up to the contributions of these other notable inducted.

Could you share some specific initiatives or projects you’ve been involved in that have made a difference in the lives of Manitobans, especially Indigenous individuals or communities?

As a team in Ongomiizwin we have provided a good work environment for our team that serves as a haven of safety and cultural connections that grounds all of the work we do. This is the place we lead from.

I’m proud of having worked with Melanie MacKinnon [executive director, Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing], the Kookums and Elders and our senior leadership in co-creating this environment.

It makes a real difference in the average length of service for the providers in Ongomiizwin Health Services and for the expansion of our programs out in community and here in the University.

I have learned a lot from Mel about our core business being relationships and was never as thankful for that as I was during the COVID-19 pandemic when we had to draw on all those relationships in our response.

I look at the national work I’m involved in and how we work together will people like Max Rady College of Medicine associate dean of admissions Dr. Sara Goulet in leading the way in meaningful change like requiring an Indigenous course to apply to our medical school.

I’m grateful for people who are willing to experiment the way forward with me, like Dr.

Delia Douglas [director of the Rady Faculty Office of Anti-Racism], as we developed and continue to try to meaningfully implement out anti-racism policy.

I can’t mention by name everyone on my teams, but I really appreciate each of them and how they contribute to our shared goals, because this is what results in the progress we have made.

Being honoured with the Order of Manitoba highlights not just your professional achievements, but also your leadership and commitment to service. Can you speak to the importance of leadership in addressing health disparities and promoting cultural understanding?

When it comes to health equity, human rights, social justice, anti-racism and cultural safety, we all have a role to play.

I think we need to have some humility in that these are complex topics, there are multiple experiences and areas of expertise that need to be part of our path forward and we don’t always know with certainty what is going to work and when our best intentions and best guesses might have unintended negative consequences.

When we are accustomed as leaders to being the experts, acting quickly and moving with certainty, we might get very stuck in leading through this complexity that requires us to critically self-reflect and may have a higher risk of getting something  wrong.

As a leader at this phase of my career, I still see my work in providing some academic leadership in Ongomiizwin, but increasingly I see it as supporting other leaders within the faculty in their own cultural safety, anti-racism and social justice work.

This is less about cultural understanding and more about understanding systems of power and oppression, our positionality and how that relates to our roles and increasing psychological safety in our environments so it’s safe to try, to question, to make mistakes and to learn.

In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing health-care challenges facing Manitoba today and how do you envision addressing them?

The most pressing health-care challenges we have in Manitoba include the system and health workforce challenges that many are struggling with.

Increasing cultural safety and address racism in the work and learning environments are important strategies to help stabilize the workforce and improve patient outcomes.

Our health outcomes remain largely defined by inequitable access to the underlying determinants of health, with this inequitable access also being related to structural drivers like colonialism and racism.

I’m fairly confident in some of the approaches we have in health professional education in the upcoming years to increase racial justice and cultural safety in our teaching and environments, but I don’t presume to have the answers to all of the complex health care challenges in the system.

It’s easy to say we need to shift funding upstream to public health and easily accessible, team based and responsive primary care, but harder to actually do.

Your achievements serve as an inspiration to many Indigenous youth aspiring to careers in medicine and academia. What advice would you give to those who are following in your footsteps?

I hope that my path is inspiring to Indigenous youth and also to other young people who have strong commitments to human rights and social justice.

At the high school and undergraduate university level the best advice I would have is to read and study widely.

Even if you want to come into a health profession, invest time in sociology, Indigenous studies and critical race and gender studies for example.

Know who you are by strengthening connections to the communities you are part of.

Explore lots of different passions like arts, travel and sports, because they too will benefit you and your work in the future in ways you might not be able to see now.

Find a range of mentors with different characteristics you admire or expertise you want to learn from.

Work hard to understand what your piece of this work is to do and keep prioritizing yourself, your well-being and the relationships that are important to you.

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals for the future, both personally and professionally, as you continue to make a difference in health care and education?

My goals remain the same – to make a meaningful and measurable difference in the health care quality and experiences our relatives have.

I’m so curious and excited for the impact our new race based data, anti-racism approaches and cultural safety training will have in the next five years.

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