Thompson Rivers University

Faculty member advocates for Indigenous rights

December 5, 2022

Professor and BC Innovation Chair in Indigenous Health Dr. Rod McCormick

Dr. Rod McCormick, a member of the Mohawk (Kanien’kéha) First Nation, believes in speaking up for change. Trained as a psychologist, the professor and BC Innovation Chair in Indigenous Health at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) understands the importance of building local, national and international collaborations.

So, when McCormick was asked to provide important insight on three national committees — the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health and the Expert Advisory Committee on the Reform of Indigenous Services Canada — he saw it as an opportunity to share his knowledge.

“I’m not an expert in any of these fields,” he says, “but they all needed a university-based Indigenous researcher, ideally with experience as a mental health service provider for Indigenous peoples — in which I have 35 years of experience. So I knew I could have a seat at the table and be part of the conversation.”

Striving for change

As a member of the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), McCormick was recently invited to speak to the House of Commons in Ottawa as part of a panel of witnesses, providing input on Bill C-7, which expands eligibility to medical assistance in dying.

“They’ve extended MAID now to include mature minors,” says McCormick. “I worked for years with suicidal youth as a psychologist and psychotherapist, and one thing they all have in common when they recovered, what they all told me, was how their thinking was messed up at the time and how it was a good thing they didn’t pick a permanent solution to a temporary problem. So, allowing teenagers to make the call on wanting MAID, and being able to get it from a physician, isn’t the right solution.”

McCormick shared these same thoughts with members of Parliament.

“The expansion of MAID is occurring at too rapid a pace in my opinion,” he told them. “I have learned through painful experience that when you are on a slippery incline, or hill, or in this case a slippery slope, the best way to avoid falling is to take small, careful steps . . . because of the multitude of ways Canada has utilized to eliminate Indigenous peoples and culture, we are overrepresented at every stage of the health-care system, including that of premature deaths. This may all seem overly dramatic to you, but do we really need yet another path to death?”

McCormick also provides input as an advisory member for the CIHR Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health, an organization that focuses on improving and promoting the health of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples in Canada. “My colleagues and I come up with ideas and decide on next steps,” he says. “So, it gives us a heads up on what’s coming, which allows us to be better prepared and more proactive.”

Looking ahead

As an internationally renowned expert in Indigenous mental health, McCormick’s continued committee involvement provides opportunities for Indigenous communities across Canada as well as for TRU.

“Over the years, while I’ve been on different committees for TRU, we’ve formed partnerships with the United States, Australia and other countries, and signed agreements with them, which is important for the university, for research and for positive change.”

“Overall, involvement helps you influence the decision-making process and helps shine a light on what matters and what’s important,” says McCormick. “There are challenges and opportunities, but, in the end, your voice matters.”

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