U of A and Treaty 8 First Nations offer rehab medicine program for Indigenous students

Occupational therapy gym. MUHC

The University of Alberta and Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta signed a historical agreement Thursday, with the goal of getting more Indigenous students into the rehabilitation medicine professions.

The program will take on 35 students in the areas of occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy.

“Within Treaty 8, we have 17 different First Nations schools on our reserves,” said Judy Kim-Meneen, director of education for Treaty 8.

“For the past three years, we have partnered with U of A rehabilitation medicine to develop this dual credit for our high school students. And we’re hoping that a lot more students will be interested in Indigenous OT, PT and speech, so we have Indigenous practitioners in the province.”

The partnership will offer dual-credit courses that provide high school credits and credits applicable towards a post-secondary degree. All parties hope it will improve high school graduation rates, promote post-secondary education, and provide knowledge and hands-on experiences for students pursuing these careers.

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“We are committed to creating pathways for First Nations high school students into the rehabilitation professions — occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy, and this is one way to do that,” said Tammy Hopper, dean of the faculty of rehabilitation medicine at the U of A.

“We’re very short of rehabilitation professionals in the north and on Treaty 8 lands and we’re really short of all health-care professionals in the north,” Hopper said. “We would like to see students coming into these programs and then having flexible enough learning opportunities so that they can also be in community as well and work in community when they graduate.”

The current program focuses on the faculty of rehabilitation medicine but Hopper says they hope to expand it to other faculties.

“There’s need for it. It’s a starting point and we can really grow from here,” she said.

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Billy-Joe Laboucan, Grand Chief of education for Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, says this will be extremely beneficial to Indigenous youth in the north.

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“We have many Indigenous students in Northern Alberta that don’t have readily accessible programming.

“It’s going to make a world of difference,” said Laboucan. “Right now, we don’t have a whole lot of students… having aspirations of being astronauts, for example, or doctors or dental hygienists because we don’t have that background in the math and sciences… That’s what we’re building upon.”

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He said Treaty 8 has been working with U of A for some time and this announcement is timely, given the upcoming National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

“I believe that actions speak louder than words. And I think the University of Alberta is backing up the actions by singing this MOU for dual credits with Treaty 8 Polytechnic,” Laboucan said.

Program registration opens in January 2024 and the first cohort is expected to finish in the spring.

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“The next step is our curriculum — that is 90 per cent developed — we just have to finalize the last little bit of the Treaty 8 foundational aspects within the OT, PT and speech, and then we’re going to implement it in January,” Kim-Meneen said.

“We’re going to have a first cohort of 35 students within Treaty 8 schools — whoever signs up, first come first served — and then we will have a dedicated teacher taking the course for the eight-week course.

“After that, they’ll be a final practicum where they’d actually come to U of A as an on-campus experience and do hands-on experience to finalize their three credits.”

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Alberta’s historic agreement on First Nations education

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