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Dr. Catherine L. Cook: 2018 Recipient of the Royal College Dr. Thomas Dignan Indigenous Health Award

 

Dr. Catherine L. Cook

Dr. Catherine L. Cook, MD, MSc, CCFP, FCFP
Family Physician, Medical Officer of Health, and Health Administrator

  • Vice Dean, Indigenous Health and Head, Ongomiziiwin – Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba
  • Associate Dean, First Nations, Metis and Inuit Health, and Associate Professor, Department of Community Health Sciences, Max Rady College of Medicine, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba
  • Vice President, Population and Aboriginal Health, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

“Dr. Cook has served Indigenous communities for 30 years with passion, empathy, dedication. She possesses a genuine understanding of the complex underlying social determinants of health that interact to produce poorer health and social outcomes for Indigenous people than any other population in Canada.”

A proud Métis woman, Dr. Catherine Cook has served Indigenous communities for 30 years with passion, empathy and dedication. Dr. Cook practiced as a family physician in remote northern nursing stations for several years before broadening her focus to public health and Indigenous health.

As a result of her early work experience, Dr. Cook soon recognized that many health challenges cannot be addressed through clinical interventions alone. Higher level interventions are needed to address the root causes of inequity, which in turn leads to poor health.

Colleagues describe Dr. Cook as humble, gentle and fearless. She is known to be someone who “steps up” and is not afraid to say it as is it is and have difficult discussions about institutionalized racism, stigma and discrimination.

Not only will she speak out against inequity, she works to address it. Dr. Cook does this in part through capacity building and hiring top notch faculty in the medical school and fostering community-based Indigenous health and culturally safe curricula. Her work addresses issues of racism, stereotyping, stigma, bias and helps unpack complex concepts that in turn better support cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Supporting Indigenous Health and Healing

“Many Indigenous people suffer from chronic ill health and poor health outcomes due to a complex web of factors. Some are unique to the individual person, however the deeper cause is engrained inequity throughout our society - in education, social services, healthcare and beyond. If we hope to change the future for Indigenous and other marginalized people, we need to work together to get to the root causes,” says Dr. Cook.

Well before the era of reconciliation, Dr. Cook made Indigenous health a priority for the University of Manitoba, the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences and Max Rady College of Medicine. Through determination and dedication, Dr. Cook has improved the university by establishing new positions for Elders within the Faculty of Medicine and brought a community vision to life with the opening of the Ongomiziiwin – Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing.

Located within the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, Ongomiziiwin’s mandate is to provide leadership and advance excellence in research, education and health services in collaboration with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. Its work is guided by Knowledge Keepers and Elders.

Today Ongomiziiwin is the largest Indigenous education and health unit in Canada, and with Dr. Cook and Dr. Marcia Anderson’s leadership, is implementing the Rady Faculty’s Reconciliation Action Plan. Developed in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the Action Plan addresses themes of honouring traditional knowledge and healing practices, providing safe learning environments, improving support and retention of Indigenous students, and removing barriers to health professional education.

“The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has moved us forward and we are at a turning point. I believe Canadians are responding very well to the critical calls to action made through this work. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people need to take ahold of this moment to address the challenges across Canada,” says Dr. Cook.

Dr. Cook at the Launch of Ongomiizwin Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing.

Bridge Builder

Dr. Cook is equally renowned for her capacity to build productive relationships and partnerships outside of the university. As founding Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Health Education, Dr. Cook secured funding to establish a resource centre for Indigenous students enrolled in University of Manitoba health education degrees. She also helped build capacity to better meet academic professional development and social support needs of Indigenous students.

Dr. Cook played a critical role in establishing the International Indigenous Academic Health Network (IIAHN), which focuses on Indigenous Health leadership development through faculty and student exchange with New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and the United States.

Working with a CIHR Grant for Network Environment in Aboriginal Health Research, Dr. Cook and University of Manitoba colleagues built research relationships with Indigenous organizations, the University of Winnipeg and the College of the North. Outcomes include research protocols and programs for Indigenous people.

Within the Winnipeg Health Region, she led development of a regional Aboriginal Health Program with interpreters, advocacy and patient navigators. She also led development and implementation of accredited workshops for health care staff that focused on mental health services for Aboriginal clients in Winnipeg and in Indigenous communities, and palliative care for Aboriginal clients.

Dr. Cook at the Winnipeg Indigenous Accord Signing Ceremony.

National and International Recognition

Dr. Cook’s expertise is also internationally recognized and she is regularly invited to speak around the world. Topics include: diabetes, suicide, historical context for Indigenous health care delivery, the importance of student mentorship, and the impact of legislation and policy on the social determinants of Indigenous health.

Dr. Cook’s significant contributions have earned many awards: WXN’s Top 100 Women, (2017); Health Administration Award, Doctors Manitoba (2013); May Cohen Award for Gender Equity and Diversity, Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (2011); Manitoba Service Excellence Award, Government of Manitoba (2010); and Health Canada’s Deputy Minister’s Award for Excellence (2000).

“With voice comes responsibility”, says Dr. Cook.