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McGill had prepared for more Quebec budget cuts, Fortier tells Senate

Wed, 2014-09-17 16:53

““The figures [of the Quebec budget] are not what we would like to see, but we had prepared for them,” Principal Suzanne Fortier told Senate earlier today. “We are not in a crisis situation.” / Photo: Owen Egan.

By McGill Reporter Staff

Because McGill had already anticipated another round of funding cuts from the Quebec government, the University is well placed to weather this next round of spending reductions, Principal Suzanne Fortier told Senate Wednesday afternoon.

“We had anticipated that the (Quebec) budget would not have the kind of resources that had been talked about earlier,” she said. “The figures are not what we would like to see, but we had prepared for them. We are not in a crisis situation.”

McGill is still processing the complex details of what are called the Règles budgétaires, a 180-page book of spending details that was delivered to universities at the beginning of September, four months into the fiscal year.

Asked how long it will take until McGill comes up with firm numbers in terms of the size of the provincial funding reductions, Prof. Fortier said it could be a month before an in-depth analysis is complete and some erroneous assumptions the government has made are corrected.

In addition, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa told Senate he had attended a meeting of his counterparts at other Quebec universities Wednesday morning, at which it was decided to seek a meeting with senior government officials to try to clear up considerable confusion over the actual extent of spending cuts for universities. Getting that meeting could take three or four weeks, he said.

In material prepared in response to a written Senate question on the effects of the Quebec budget on McGill’s operations, it was pointed out that when the University’s Board of Governors approved the 2015 budget last April, it was anticipated that the Quebec government’s operating grant to the University would be $360 million. That budget included a $7-million deficit for the University. Following recent spending updates from the province, that grant is now forecast to be about $345 million. But it is too soon to know the effect on the deficit.

As firmer numbers are developed, a program of consultations will be established as needed this fall to discuss the budget shortfall.


McGill’s Myriam Denov awarded prestigious Trudeau Fellowship

Tue, 2014-09-16 15:29

Myriam Denov calls children born of wartime rape “an invisible population,” and says they often have problems reintegrating into society.

Participatory research uses art to shed light on the lives of children born of war

By Meaghan Thurston

There are thousands of children born of war-time rape worldwide, but very little is known about their lived experiences and their relationships with their families and communities. Professor Myriam Denov, of McGill’s School of Social work, has been awarded one of Canada’s most prestigious research awards to help fill this knowledge gap. One of three recipients of Trudeau Fellowships awarded in Canada in 2014, she hopes to shed some light on an “invisible, but resilient” population of children and youth.

The project will be conducted in partnership with two NGOs: Canadian-based Children/Youth as Peacebuilders (CAP) and Watye Ki Gen, a local African organization that works specifically with women who have survived armed captivity. The Trudeau Fellowship program provides its Fellows with access to a vast network of scholars and mentors focused on research on human rights and advocacy, in addition to $225,000 in funding over three years.

Bearing witness

Denov became aware of the issue of children born of wartime rape when working in Sierra Leone and Colombia with former child soldiers. The image of the “iconic child fighter” is a young man armed with an AK-47. Yet, many girls too have been involved in armed conflicts worldwide. In Uganda, where Denov will carry out her Trudeau research, civil war raged for more than two decades and tens of thousands of children were abducted to fight for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), perhaps as many as 30 per cent of them girls, many of whom were forced to become “wives” to rebel commanders and gave birth to children. While there has been investment in recent years in scholarship regarding the reintegration of child soldiers and the realities of wartime sexual violence, “there’s been an invisible population, and that’s the children born of these atrocities,” says Denov.

For the former child soldiers, reintegration into their communities can be its own battle; however, their children may face an even greater challenge. Denov remembers one former child soldier named Mamusu, then 17 years of age with two young children, who seemed to be followed by the “stain of war.” “Mamusu reported experiencing stigma and rejection by family and community because of her former affiliation with an armed group, as well as being a victim of sexual violence. Community members often referred to her children as ‘devil children’ and ‘rebel babies.’ She wondered what would become of them.”

CAP and Watye Ki Gen are currently undertaking a quantitative study to determine how many children were born of rape during the conflict, with estimates of as many as 10,000.

Children know best

Denov has made her mark nationally and internationally by focusing her research on marginalized groups of children and youth, but she is also a pioneer, and an emerging expert, in the use of participatory methods of research. In Sierra Leone, for example, she employed a community-based participatory research method called PhotoVoice, which combines the use of photography with group and community awareness building.

In the PhotoVoice project, children and youth used cameras to document their daily lives. Motivated by their art-marking, peer-to-peer-groups facilitated discussions about their past experiences, their post-conflict lives, and their potential opportunities for the future. One former child soldier participating in the research program captioned a photo he had taken of a man in his community, saying: “I want to be like the man in this picture. He is an educated man, he spends time with his books and I have never seen him sitting idly around. I see him as a role model and I want to be even more educated than he is.”

Denov is certain that the Trudeau project’s success hinges on involving the children and youth in the research, as actively as possible. She intends that they will be trained to conduct research themselves and she fully expects that they will outshine their adult counterparts, as they have done in her previous studies. “In my previous work we had young people that not only demonstrated excellent research skills, but also went beyond their role and became mentors for other war-affected youth. It really opened my eyes to the capacity of young people and confirmed my hope of bringing young people into the process of research.”

She credits the Child’s Rights Unit of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for taking a chance on her participatory methodologies at the beginning of her research career, at a time when it was not widely accepted to do so. “I had an idea to engage children beyond being research subjects and CIDA was cutting edge in terms of supporting research that was children’s rights focused. I proposed to them this idea of child participation on the research team, and I thought ‘they’re never going to let me do this.’ My hat’s off to them because they supported it, and they encouraged me, and through that project many doors opened that led me to where I am today. It has allowed me to work with youth and young people in so many different contexts.”

Denov’s interest in art as a research tool has been amplified by what she’s seen work on the ground. When working with young people, art has proven to be an accessible means of communicating about hard issues, whether it’s through mask-making, drawing, or photography. Denov hopes to use similar arts-based research methods in the Trudeau-funded project, including engaging children and youth as researchers and as facilitators of peer-to-peer focus groups.

A global issue

She sees the potential for her research-findings to influence public programs and policies beyond the borders of Uganda among other marginalized populations of youth, or in situations where their citizenship or status is challenged, for example with refugee youth and aboriginal youth. In Quebec between the years of 1998-2007, eight of the top ten countries from which the province accepted refugees were war affected nations (Ministère de la Citoyenneté et de l’Immigration, 2009).

The influx of refugees who have been a part of armed conflict is in part why, at home in Montreal, Denov facilitates a support group for youth affected by war. “They’re survivors,” she says. “They look like average teenagers…but I know I wouldn’t survive the conditions they lived in, and they have. Many of them tell me that people in Canada, including helping professionals, don’t understand what they have been through and it’s difficult to find appropriate support when they need it.”

And she is already looking ahead to the possibility of conducting a multi-country study of children born of war, further expanding the field of knowledge. But for now, she has some leg work to do in Uganda, which is made easier by the support she will receive from the Trudeau Foundation and her NGO partners. “This is a challenging topic and I am incredibly grateful that they are taking it on.”


RSC names new members of The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists

Tue, 2014-09-16 15:00

By Meaghan Thurston

The Royal Society of Canada has named the inaugural 91 members of The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists today. The new members include McGill’s Aashish Clerk, Associate Professor of Physics and a Tier-II Canada Research Chair, and Madhukar Pai, Director of McGill’s Global Health Programs, Associate Professor in the Dept. of Epidemiology, Biostatistics & Occupational Health, and Associate Director of McGill’s International TB Centre.

Members have been nominated by 51 Canadian universities and the National Research Council, and they represent the emerging generation of scholarly, scientific and artistic leadership in Canada. Together, the members of the College will address issues of particular concern to new scholars, artists and scientists, for the advancement of understanding and the benefit of society, taking advantage of the interdisciplinary approaches fostered by the establishment of the College.

“McGill is extremely proud to have Professors Clerk and Pai included among the foundational members of The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists,” said Dr. Rosie Goldstein, Vice-Principal, Research and International Relations. “As Members, they will have the opportunity to draw upon the expertise of their RSC colleagues to maximize their leadership potential, and advance both scholarly thinking and practice by generating new insight, and provoking debate.”

Aashish Clerk

Professor Clerk is a leading theoretical physicist active in the general area of engineered quantum systems, and in particular the relatively new fields of quantum electromechanics and optomechanics. His research helped establish the basic theoretical language used to describe measurement, control and dissipation in quantum optomechanical systems, where light interacts with mechanical motion in quantum regimes. Among other awards, he was the recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan fellowship in 2007, and an NSERC E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship in 2014.

“I am honoured and humbled to have my work recognized by the RSC, and am looking forward to interacting with and learning from other members of the College,” says Professor Clerk.

Madhukar Pai

Professor Pai is a renowned epidemiologist whose research is mainly focused on improving the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis, especially in high-burden countries like India and South Africa. In addition to his academic appointments, he serves as a Consultant for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, Geneva.

“As a physician and a global health researcher, I am hoping to learn from the diverse, interdisciplinary membership of the College,” says Professor Pai. I am also looking forward to the opportunity to interact with and be inspired by the distinguished Fellows of the RSC.”

The Presentation for this first cohort will take place on Friday, Nov. 21 at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City, with a banquet to follow.


Two entering students awarded major scholarship

Tue, 2014-09-16 14:00

By McGill Reporter Staff

Anna Henley and Simona Bene Watts have been named McGill University’s 2014 Schulich Leaders, each receiving a Schulich Leader Scholarship for students entering undergraduate studies in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM).

Created in 2011 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Seymour Schulich, Schulich Leader Scholarships are 40 undergraduate scholarships awarded annually to students pursuing undergraduate studies in STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This $100 million scholarship program is the largest undergraduate STEM scholarship opportunity in Canada and the second-largest endowment to Canadian academia in history. This year, there were 1,147 Schulich Leader Nominees.

Two scholarship recipients – “Schulich Leaders” – are selected at each participating university. One undergraduate scholarship valued at $80,000 is designated for a student pursuing a degree in an engineering program. The second undergraduate scholarship, valued at $60,000 is awarded to a student pursuing a degree in a science, technology or mathematics program (non-engineering based).

Anna Henley

Henley, from St. John’s, NF, is the recipient of the award valued at $80,000. A graduate of St. Bonaventure’s College, she entered the Department of Mechanical Engineering this fall. Henley was selected for her outstanding academic record and extra-curricular achievements, core requirements for the award. Among these: she is the youngest-ever winner of the Newfoundland Triple Crown of Rowing, and participated in the 2013 Canada Summer Games; she also is a founding member of a committee that maintains organic garden plots throughout St. John’s and donates the harvests to local food banks.


Simona Bene Watts

Bene Watts, of Lee Creek, BC, is the recipient of the award valued at $60,000. A graduate of Salmon Arm Secondary School, she entered the Faculty of Science’s Biological, Biomedical & Life Sciences program this fall. Bene Watts was selected for her outstanding academic and community-service achievements, core requirements for the award. Her accomplishments include helping to organize a humanitarian trip to Ghana to build a primary-school classroom, and serving as the driving force behind a fundraising fashion show for the African famine.


“Fostering leadership in STEM fields is vital to Canada’s economic prosperity,” said Seymour Schulich.“ A scholarship of this size will motivate high school students from across the country to pursue their dream and in the process help to ensure our country’s competitive position. This scholarship, now in its third year, has positively impacted 120 students from across the country in 10 provinces distributing more than $7.6 million to Canadian Schulich Leaders since 2012.”

Open to every high school, secondary school and CEGEP across Canada, Schulich Leader Scholarships recognizes Canadian students who plan to study one of the STEM disciplines during their undergraduate years at university. These students demonstrate two of the following attributes: academic excellence, outstanding community, business or entrepreneurial leadership or financial need.

For more information, go here.



McTavish St. stairs are closed for now

Tue, 2014-09-16 13:50

As part of the measures being taken to enhance security and safety around the City of Montreal’s McTavish St. sewer and water-main construction project, the stairs at the intersection of McTavish St. and the south side of Dr. Penfield Ave. will be closed immediately for an indeterminate period of time.

Signs will be placed to direct pedestrians to an alternate route across Dr. Penfield, via the plaza on the west side of the Leacock Building.

We would like to remind everyone again that it is very important to obey signs and the signals of flagmen/women and to avoid wearing headphones near the construction site so that reversing warning signals can be heard.

Please be patient and please be safe.

For more information on this project and for regular updates, please visit www.mcgill.ca/construction

Construction project launched at Schulich Library

Tue, 2014-09-16 10:25

Workers install the scafolding around the Macdonald-Stewart Library Building. / Photo: Neale McDevitt

By McGill Reporter Staff

Construction begins in earnest today at the Macdonald-Stewart Library Building on the downtown campus, home of the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering.

Scaffolding will be erected around the building once again (it was sheathed in scaffolding and netting during a recent roof-replacement project) as stonemasons examine the 120-year-old, late-Victorian gem from inside and out to determine the degree to which its old stone has deteriorated.

During the roof project, degradation was observed from above, which prompted McGill to commission a report early this year into the state of the building. That report, received this summer, recommended some quick action to be taken before winter sets in to effect repairs before the freeze-thaw cycle has a chance to exacerbate cracks in stone and joints, said Bob Stanley, Director of Project Management in the University Services Department.

On the inside, crews will construct interior walls to seal off certain areas, floor by floor, from the rest of the interior space. This is to help minimize dust, noise and cold from disturbing those who are studying and working in the Library, but there will still be significant disruptions between now and Christmas, said Diane Koen, Senior Director of Planning and Resources for McGill’s libraries.

In order to maintain the number of study spaces, some shelves and their contents will be relocated. Much of the material, mostly bound journals, will be moved to storage areas in the Currie Gym and will remain retrievable, Koen said.

“Obviously, we’d prefer not to disrupt our students and staff at this busy time of year, but we have no choice and we will make the best of it,” Koen said. “We’re asking for everyone’s patience and our staff will do their best, as always, to try to deal with people’s problems and concerns as best we can. We are trying to ensure that the heavy-duty construction will take place mostly in the morning, when there is less demand on the Library.”

The situation is not dangerous, Stanley said. “We’re taking the necessary steps now to make sure it won’t become dangerous. We have to take this seriously and we are. Stone deteriorates at an advancing rate, and the more water infiltrates cracks in the stone and freezes in the winter, the larger those cracks become. It’s a spiraling cycle. The larger the cracks become, the more water can infiltrate. It’s the same with any stone building anywhere in Montreal. We’ve had considerable experience with this issue on the downtown campus where 37 of our buildings were built before 1900. This one was built in 1893.”

The initial work is expected to cost a bit less than $4 million and is scheduled to be completed by Christmas. Pedestrians circulating near the building are asked to obey Security personnel, particularly while the scaffolding is being erected.

For more information, visit www.mcgill.ca/library for a set of Frequency Asked Questions, or contact reno.library@mcgill.ca and staff will respond promptly.

The Macdonald-Stewart Library Building, not to be confused with the Macdonald-Stewart Building on the Macdonald Campus, has some significant history. It was built in 1893 as a Physics Building. In 1908, Sir Ernest Rutherford won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of some of the work he conducted in the building early in the new century, which led to his being considered “the father of nuclear physics.”


McGill maintains Top-25 place in QS rankings

Mon, 2014-09-15 21:45

Photo: John Kelsey

By McGill Reporter Staff

McGill has maintained its ranking of 21 in the QS World University Rankings, it was announced earlier today in London, England.

This is the 11th year in a row that Quacquarelli Symonds has ranked McGill in the Top 25 of the world’s universities. McGill is Canada’s second-ranked university in this year’s QS standings, almost tied with the University of Toronto, which ranks 20th.

“It is to the McGill community’s great credit that we are not only holding our own, but doing so in a difficult financial climate,” said Principal Suzanne Fortier. “Rankings are not an exact science, and different methodologies measure different things. The value, I think, is in the cumulative view of an institution over time. Eleven years in the QS Top 25 is a big part of that long view, and I am proud of McGill’s consistency in maintaining standards of excellence.”

Other rankings, including the Times Higher Education and Maclean’s Magazine, will be made public in the coming weeks.


Dads and dads-to-be wanted for McGill study

Mon, 2014-09-15 16:07

McGill researchers are looking for new dads and dads-to-be to help them develop a new website to provide dads-to be and new dads with information and strategies to help adjust to the changes of parenthood, enhance emotional wellness and engage in healthy behaviours. By participating in this research study, you will help tailor the website to the needs of new dads and dads-to-be.

Participants will be required to complete an on-line survey asking questions related to mood, stress, sleep, pregnancy and parenting concerns, physical activity and eating habits. They will receive a $10 gift card after completing the survey.

Participants may also be contacted for a brief telephone interview to provide more information about what the website should include. They will receive a $10 gift card after completing this interview.

Potential participants must have a partner who is pregnant or just gave birth within six months of sending us an email indicating their interest!

Interested parties should send an email to Healthydads@clinepi.mcgill.ca



Allan Downey: Using lacrosse to teach, inspire and heal

Mon, 2014-09-15 10:40

“Lacrosse was my gateway. It was my bridge to an education,” says Allan Downey of the Nak’azdli First Nation and the newly hired academic associate in Indigenous Studies at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. / Photo: Neale McDevitt

By Neale McDevitt

People often say sports can forge character. But for Allan Downey of the Nak’azdli First Nation and a newly hired academic associate in Indigenous Studies at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), it goes even deeper than that.

“Lacrosse was my gateway,” he says, just weeks into his new position at MISC. “It was my bridge to an education. It’s unbelievable to me the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met and the communities I’ve been welcomed to all because of this game, because of this stick.

“My career, my research, the travelling and presentations – without lacrosse and the support of my Aboriginal community, I would have none of this,” he says.

In his own words, Downey “struggled” in school growing up in Waterloo, Ont. But he excelled in box lacrosse, a form of the game played in a hockey arena. Out of high school, Downey earned a lacrosse scholarship to Mercyhurst University in Erie, Penn., in 2003. At Mercyhurst, he had to translate his box lacrosse skills and apply them to the more widely played field version. Downey didn’t just adapt, he excelled and was named captain of the team.

Where passions collide

But a funny thing happened on his way to a pro lacrosse career (he was drafted by the Arizona Sting in the National Lacrosse League in 2007) – Downey fell in love with learning at Mercyhurst when he discovered his passion for history, a passion, he says, that had been fostered by his family. “My grandfather had been a history teacher and a principal and my dad also had a great love for history,” says Downey, “so I was raised going to historic sites and watching a lot of documentaries. But in terms of my career, I think the key moment was when I merged my passion for history and my passion for lacrosse.”

That moment came while Downey was doing his MA in history at Wilfrid Laurier University, where he wrote his thesis on the history of Six Nations lacrosse from 1840–1990. This past spring, Downey successfully defended his PhD dissertation that built upon his earlier work. The dissertation, which will be published in book form by the University of British Columbia, focuses on the history of lacrosse in Aboriginal communities from 1867-1990, to better understand Native-Newcomer relations.

“You can trace lacrosse to the majority of all parts of North America where, for many Indigenous cultures, the game is central to their identity,” says Downey. The Haudenosaunee people believe that lacrosse has been here since the beginning of time. They call it the Creator’s Game and that, as a gift from the Creator, it has the power to heal.”

At McGill, Downey will teach Introduction to Indigenous Studies, one of the core courses in MISC’s fledgling Minor Undergraduate Program in Indigenous Studies. Aimed at undergraduates across the Faculty of Arts, the program will provide students with an interdisciplinary exposure to issues in Indigenous Studies. Downey says the program is in response to a strong and persistent demand over recent years. “It was really headed by undergraduate students, MISC and First Peoples’ House,” he says. “It is one of those cases where a movement just kept gaining momentum and has resulted in something very positive.

“It’s really hard to put into words how excited I am because what we’re seeing is more and more Canadians being open to changing their relationship with Indigenous communities,” he says. “In order for this positive relationship change to take place we have to understand the roots of how that relationship has gone so sour. I think there’s a real opportunity here to start bringing more Indigenous worldviews into our academic settings and into our cities, into our non-Indigenous communities so that greater understanding can take place.”

And Downey is all about trying to effect positive change. In discovering his love of academia – specifically his love of Indigenous history – he didn’t withdraw into a life of sequestered research. Instead, he has become an active and vocal advocate for Indigenous youth, frequently speaking in communities to tell his story.

“I tell them I was struggling and not always the best student, but that lacrosse opened the doors to so many opportunities. I feel both very lucky and very privileged,” says Downey. “But I remind them that it’s not specifically about lacrosse. It’s about finding your passion and following that passion and seeing where that will take you. Like me, you could be amazed at where you end up.”

Although lacrosse is still a popular sport in Indigenous communities, Downey also use his outreach work to reintroduce them to the historical aspect of the game, and to a certain extent, an important part of their cultural identity that has eroded over time. “For various reasons, a lot of communities have forgotten some of the traditional stories or that their family ancestors played the game of lacrosse,” says Downey. “I try to give pieces of that history back to people.

Giving back to the community

“So much knowledge has been taken out of our communities going back at least 100 years when there were researchers going into communities and taking inherited knowledge or sensitive knowledge and sharing it with the world without permission,” says Downey. “Then, of course, we had the history of residential schools which was basically teaching Indigenous people not to be Indigenous and to turn away from their identities, language and culture.

“I think it’s time we start bringing that knowledge and that sense of identity back to the community,” he says.

Often, his outreach work brings him to correctional facilities for Indigenous youth. Again, he uses his own story to try and inspire people to find their path. “These are youths who have been disempowered. I try to reconnect with an important cultural element – lacrosse – as a way to look at bigger issues like setting goals and developing life skills. If they can do this, when they get of the correctional facility, they can become leaders in their communities and make positive lifestyle changes.

“What better way to get through to them than with the healing game?”


Cedars Cancer Centre to open next June

Fri, 2014-09-12 16:04

The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) has announced today that the new Cancer Centre at the Glen hospital site will be known as the Cedars Cancer Centre and is set to open in June 2015.

“It’s fitting that our new state-of-the-art cancer centre bear the Cedars name,” said Normand Rinfret, MUHC Director General and CEO. “This Foundation has been supporting MUHC cancer patients and their families for almost 50 years and has helped ensure we remain a world leader in cancer care, teaching and research.

“This honour is in appreciation of our longstanding partnership and in recognition of the important and expanded role we expect Cedars to play within the MUHC and the Rossy Cancer Network over the coming years.”

The Cedars Cancer Foundation also announced gifts totalling over $16 million to The Best Care for Life Campaign of the MUHC. The Rossy Family Foundation gift of $12 million is in addition to its $28 million transformational donation creating the Rossy Cancer Network last year. Mr. Andrew Lutfy and family are donating $3 million and Andy Chelminski and family are contributing $1.6 million.

“This modern centre,” added Dr. Armen Aprikian, chief of the Cancer Care Mission of the MUHC, “will allow our medical professionals to continue to be pioneers in cancer diagnosis and treatment while providing patients with the highest level of care and support. Patients and their families will benefit from having everything they require in one location, in a space that has been conceived and designed to optimize as much as possible the patient experience.

“With this new facility,” he noted, “we are better positioned to support the crucial work of the Rossy Cancer Network. Together with our colleagues from McGill, the Jewish and St Mary’s we are determined to remain leaders in improving quality, effectiveness and efficiency across the continuum of cancer care.”

The patient has been at the forefront of the thinking throughout the design of the Cedars Cancer Centre. Very ill patients, for example, who arrive at emergency will be assessed immediately and directed to the appropriate service or department. They will also benefit from a dental care room, a patient and visitor-resource centre and healing gardens, to name a few of the advantages of the new facility.

“We are delighted with this honour and are well aware that increased responsibility comes along with this recognition,” explained Bruce Shadeed, Chairman of the Cedars Cancer Foundation Board of Directors. “As we approach our 50th anniversary, we are entering into a new phase of our development and are looking to expand significantly our fundraising efforts. Today’s three major donations, which are unprecedented in our history, are confirmation of outstanding community support for Cedars and the MUHC.”

“As a result of these gifts and those of many other supporters of Cedars,” added Shadeed, “we have now fulfilled our commitment to The Best Care for Life Campaign. In total, we have raised $25 million on behalf of this major initiative for our city.”

“I believe I speak for all donors when I say that contributing to the well-being of cancer patients is one of the most important healthcare investments we can make,” said Larry Rossy, founder, Chair of the Board of Directors and CEO of Dollarama, a retail chain with over 900 stores across the country. “We all know someone touched by this disease, which is why we are grateful to the many healthcare professionals at the MUHC/Cedars and throughout the Rossy Cancer Network for their exceptional clinical care and research. They are committed to continually improving cancer survival, mortality and patient satisfaction so that the outcomes at the Rossy Cancer Network hospitals will be on par with or better than other leading international comprehensive cancer centres. I can’t think of a better cause to support.”

“My grandfather was a founder of Cedars, and I am delighted today to be supporting his legacy and his vision of helping cancer patients and their families,” explained Andrew Lutfy, CEO of Groupe Dynamite Inc, a privately-owned company which operates more than 300 stores. “Cedars has made a difference in the lives of so many Quebecers through initiatives like CanSupport and the acquisition of the Da Vinci surgical system.”

“My family and I are proud to be part of the Cedars community and urge others to join us in supporting the work of this important foundation,” said Andy Chelminski, founder of the Bentley Group, a chain of more than 400 retail stores throughout Canada, and presently President of Continental Capital. “We all must do our part to give back, and in supporting Cedars we are making an impact in the lives of so many touched by cancer.”

Speaking as Chair of The Best Care for Life Campaign, John Rae concluded, “Cedars has, since the outset, been a strong and consistent supporter of plans for a new MUHC and a true partner in our fundraising efforts. We are grateful to these donors for their generosity and their commitment to building a world-class health centre in our city. They are a shining example for all of us.”

The Cedars Cancer Foundation is a hospital-based charity whose mission is to support comprehensive cancer care for all cancer patients – pediatric, adolescent and young adult (AYA), adults and those in palliative care – who are being treated at the MUHC. The Cedars Cancer Foundation fulfills this mission by providing much-needed funds to:

  • Purchase state-of-the-art diagnostic oncology equipment
  • Improve facilities for the treatment and care of cancer patients. Accomplishments include the creation of the Cedars Breast Clinic at the Royal Victoria Hospital, renovations to Sarah’s Floor – the hematology/oncology division at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, renovations to the Palliative Care Unit at the Montreal General Hospital, and much more
  • Run the Cedars CanSupport program, which offers free psychosocial, practical and humanitarian assistance to cancer patients and their families, as well as financial assistance through the Wilfrid Howick Humanitarian Endowment Fund
  • Support cancer research through the Henry R. Shibata Fellowship Award
  • Provide annual visiting professorships in oncology that bring world-renowned researchers, educators and physicians to the McGill teaching hospitals – the Vivian Saykaly Visiting Professorship in Medical Oncology and the Edward J. Tabah Visiting Professorship in Surgical Oncology
  • Improve awareness of cancer-related issues through free public lectures and educational programs


National consortium to tackle dementia to be headquartered in the Lady Davis Institute

Fri, 2014-09-12 15:14

On Sept. 10, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health, announced the launch of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA), a national initiative aimed at tackling the growing onset of dementia and related illnesses and improving the lives of Canadians with these illnesses, as well as their families and caregivers. The CCNA is headquartered in the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital.

Led by Dr. Howard Chertkow, a cognitive neurologist and co-founder and director of the Jewish General Hospital / McGill Memory Clinic, the CCNA brings together 20 research teams and experts from across Canada to focus research on three themes:

  • delaying the onset of dementia and related illnesses
  • preventing these illnesses from occurring
  • improving the quality of life of Canadians living with these illnesses and their caregivers

The CCNA is supported with funding of $31.5M over five years from the Government of Canada through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and a group of 13 partners from the public and private sectors, including the Alzheimer Society of Canada and Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé. The CCNA researchers will also benefit from an additional $24M investment by a subset of the partners in Ontario and Quebec.

““Our Government is proud to be making this significant investment to face the global dementia challenge with over fourteen provincial, public and private partners,” said Minister Ambrose. “The large consortium announced today will accelerate innovative and collaborative research to make a difference in the quality of life and the quality of services for Canadians affected by these diseases. With the CCNA, we are joining forces with our international counterparts to support additional research with a view to finding a cure for dementia by 2025.”

Dr. Howard Chertkow

For Dr. Chertkow, when it comes to taking on dementia, there is definitely strength in numbers. “The CCNA will bring together over 300 researchers in Canada who have been working hard for a cure for neurodegenerative diseases. By supplying an infrastructure, shared research platforms, national research teams, and a cohesive research agenda, we hope to accelerate our current progress towards new treatments, better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and associated diseases, improved quality of life for our patients and their families, and eventually the cures for these conditions,” he said. “Canadian researchers will – even more than they do already – begin to play a prominent role on the world stage in the global fight against dementia. The CCNA will be transformative, and offers real hope of a better life for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.”

Minister Ambrose made the announcement ahead of the Canada-France Global Legacy Event being held in Ottawa, Sept. 11 and 12. The event will bring together 200 experts from G7 countries and focus on building global academic-industry partnerships and promoting innovation in dementia prevention, treatment and care.


DAR embarks on Advancement path

Fri, 2014-09-12 11:06

Alumni and Fundraising unit changes its name

Eagle-eyed visitors to McGill’s website may notice something slightly different. As of Labour Day, the unit previously known as Development and Alumni Relations officially changed its name to “University Advancement” (or “Avancement universitaire” in French).

For Marc Weinstein, Vice-Principal of the newly-christened Advancement unit, the change isn’t just an opportunity to order new business cards. It represents a fundamental evolution in how his team works together, and how McGill connects to the communities it serves.

“I’m very excited about this change, which I think brings our public face much more closely in line with who we are and what we stand for,” he says. “University Advancement reflects the true nature of our mission: to advance our institution by encouraging our community to rally behind McGill’s progress and aspirations.”

As Weinstein explains, the new moniker also reflects an important evolution his department has been undergoing in recent years, aimed at bringing fundraising and alumni engagement activities together into one seamless whole. Behind the scenes, this has involved significant restructuring of Advancement’s various departments, as well as the addition of two new senior staff members. Paul Chesser, formerly Chief Development Officer at Carleton University, has joined McGill as the new Assistant Vice-Principal of Development, while Gabrielle Korn, who was previously Director of Communications for Les amis de la montagne, has come on board as Managing Director of Alumni Relations, replacing the recently-retired Honora Shaughnessy.

“Both Paul and Gabrielle bring a wealth of experience and a wonderfully creative set of new ideas to the table,” Weinstein says. “I know that they are going to play a key role in helping us do an even better job with what we all come to work every day to do: forge lifelong, mutually beneficial relationships with alumni, donors, students, parents and friends, and secure ongoing philanthropic support to help the University advance its mission and achieve its priority objectives.”

The name change became official on Sept. 2, when it started to appear on marketing and communications materials across McGill.

And if you do run into Marc Weinstein on Peel Street outside of Martlet House, feel free to address him by his brand-new title: Vice-Principal of University Advancement.


MISC turns 20 in style with September symposium

Thu, 2014-09-11 16:33

By Elisabeth Faure

On Sept. 23, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) will mark its two-decade anniversary with a public symposium, Canada Remix, which will bring together some of Canada’s leading thinkers.

The Remix audience will hear from the likes of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who will give a keynote address live via video, discussing how his community came together in the aftermath of the 2013 Calgary floods. Two panel discussions will follow. The first, on “Individuals, Communities, and Global Civil Society,” will feature ad guru Bertrand Cesvet (chairperson of global powerhouse agency Sid Lee, Inc.), Globe and Mail chief political writer John Ibbitson, renowned artist Ken Lum, and Inuit leader Mary Simon. Ken Whyte, Senior Vice-President of Public Policy for Rogers, will moderate.

The second Remix panel, “The Future for Our Democratic and Public Expression,” will consist of Montréal International CEO Dominique Anglade, La Presse Chief Editorial Writer André Pratte, former Ontario Premier and Liberal Party of Canada interim Leader Bob Rae, and CBC Radio’s Spark host Nora Young. Moderating duties will be handled by former MISC Director Antonia Maioni.

“This outstanding lineup is truly emblematic of what the MISC stands for, which is to serve as a meeting place for those engaged in all aspects of Canadian life, where they can discuss the big issues facing our country,” said current MISC Director Will Straw.

Since its founding in 1994 by Charles R. Bronfman and Alex K. Paterson, the Institute has played host to some of Canada’s biggest names, via its annual conferences and public events. Amongst the Institute’s noted guests are former Premiers (Jean Charest, Bernard Landry, and Bernard Lord), and former Prime Ministers (Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney). The MISC has also played host to leading figures from the cultural centre (Coeur de Pirate, Tantoo Cardinal, Denise Chong, Jian Ghomeshi, Malcolm Gladwell, and Andy Nulman), in addition to athletes (Ken Dryden, Jennifer Heil, Richard Pound).

Beyond the September 23 symposium, other exciting new projects are in store. The Institute, which runs an undergraduate program in Canadian Studies, is launching a second undergraduate program in Indigenous Studies this year, and its new “Canada in the Americas” initiative will continue to explore the place of Canada in the larger context of its fellow countries in the Americas. And its 2015 conference on the topic of “Cities” (date TBA) is sure to have people talking.

To help the MISC continue to fund these public education events, the Institute is in the midst of a fundraising campaign, with a goal of $1 million. “We’re ambitious, but believe we can hit that target,” Straw said.

Space at Remix is limited, and those interested in attending are encouraged to register early. Students can attend free of charge, and tickets for the general public cost only $15.

“I am proud to say this symposium will highlight and continue the MISC’s proud history of public education,” Straw said. “It’s through events like these that we hope to inspire people to keep thinking and talking about Canada for the next 20 years.”

For more information about MISC events and fundraising activities, go here.


Reducing water scarcity possible by 2050

Thu, 2014-09-11 15:02

Dry ground in the Sonoran Desert, Sonora, Mexico. / Photo: Tomas Castelazo, Wikimedia Commons

By Chris Chipello

Water scarcity is not a problem just for the developing world. In California, legislators are currently proposing a $7.5 billion emergency water plan to their voters; and U.S. federal officials last year warned residents of Arizona and Nevada that they could face cuts in Colorado River water deliveries in 2016.

Irrigation techniques, industrial and residential habits combined with climate change lie at the root of the problem. But despite what appears to be an insurmountable problem, according to researchers from McGill and Utrecht University it is possible to turn the situation around and significantly reduce water scarcity in just over 35 years.

In a new paper published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers outline strategies in six key areas that they believe can be combined in different ways in different parts of the world in order to effectively reduce water stress. (Water stress occurs in an area where more than 40 per cent of the available water from rivers is unavailable because it is already being used – a situation that currently affects about a third of the global population, and may affect as many as half the people in the world by the end of the century if the current pattern of water use continues).

The researchers separate six key strategy areas for reducing water stress into “hard path” measures, involving building more reservoirs and increasing desalination efforts of sea water, and “soft path” measures that focus on reducing water demand rather than increasing water supply thanks to community-scale efforts and decision-making, combining efficient technology and environmental protection. The researchers believe that while there are some economic, cultural and social factors that may make certain of the “soft path” measures such as population control difficult, the “soft path” measures offer the more realistic path forward in terms of reducing water stress.

(The details about each of the six key strategy areas are to be found below)

Professor Tom Gleeson / Photo: Owen Egan

“There is no single silver bullet to deal with the problem around the world,” says Prof. Tom Gleeson, of McGill’s Department of Civil Engineering and one of the authors of the paper. “But, by looking at the problem on a global scale, we have calculated that if four of these strategies are applied at the same time we could actually stabilize the number of people in the world who are facing water stress rather than continue to allow their numbers to grow, which is what will happen if we continue with business as usual.”

“Significant reductions in water-stressed populations are possible by 2050,” adds co-author Dr. Yoshihide Wada from the Department of Physical Geography at Utrecht University, “but a strong commitment and strategic efforts are required to make this happen.”


Strategies to reduce water stress

“Soft measures”

1. Agricultural water productivity could be improved in stressed basins where agriculture is commonly irrigated. Reducing the fraction of water-stressed population by 2 per cent by the year 2050 could be achieved with the help of new cultivars, or higher efficiency of nutrients application. Concerns include the impacts of genetic modification and eutrophication.

2. Irrigation efficiency could also be improved in irrigated agricultural basins. A switch from flood irrigation to sprinklers or drips could help achieve this goal, but capital costs are significant and soil salinization could ensue.

3. Improvements in domestic and industrial water use could be achieved in water stressed areas through significant domestic or industrial water use reduction, for example, by reducing leakage in the water infrastructure and improving water-recycling facilities.

4. Limiting the rate of population growth could help in all water-stressed areas, but a full water-stress relief would require keeping the population in 2050 below 8.5 billion, for example, through help with family planning and tax incentives. However, this could be difficult to achieve, given current trends.

“Hard measures”

5. Increasing water storage in reservoirs could, in principle, help in all stressed basins with reservoirs. Such a strategy would require an additional 600 km3 of reservoir capacity, for example, by making existing reservoirs larger, reducing sedimentation or building new ones. This strategy would imply significant capital investment, and could have negative ecological and social impacts.

6. Desalination of seawater could be ramped up in coastal water-stressed basins, by increasing either the number or capacity of desalination plants. A 50-fold increase would be required to make an important difference, which would imply significant capital and energy costs, and it would generate waste water that would need to be disposed of safely.

Read the Nature Geoscience article here.



Four McGill researchers receive Arthritis Society grants

Thu, 2014-09-11 14:23

On Sept. 9, the Arthritis Society announced the commitment of $3.4 million in funding for arthritis research across Canada this year. The funding will be used to fund both established researchers as well as provide young investigators with their first opportunities to explore novel ideas within the field of arthritis research. A total of 18 new projects will be funded.

“Canadians with arthritis should know that we are fast approaching real answers to questions that have puzzled arthritis researchers for decades,” said Joanne Simons, chief mission officer at The Arthritis Society. “More sophisticated equipment and advanced technology have enabled us to study disease development and progression more accurately than ever.”

Each year, The Arthritis Society funds exceptional research projects that show the most promise to deliver practical solutions for people with arthritis and to find the cure for this disease. These new grants carry awards that last up to three years.

The following four McGill researchers were awarded grants:

Dr. Shawn Robbins, Faculty of Medicine, School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, earned both a Young Investigator Operating Grant and a Young Investigator Salary Award for his work in knee osteoarthritis.

Dr. Hélène Beaudry, Faculty of Medecine, won a Post Doctoral Fellowship Salary Award for her work on the role the nervous system plays in the development of arthritis.

Dr. Hugues Petitjean, Faculty of Medicine, earned a Post Doctoral Fellowship Salary Award for his research into new methods to control osteoarthritis pain.

Dr. Jessica Widdifield, Faculty of Medicine, The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, won a Post Doctoral Fellowship Salary Award for her exploration into the causes and contributors of early death in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.



Welence wondrous as baseball Redmen double Carabins, extend win streak to five

Thu, 2014-09-11 11:22

Shortstop Tyler Welence had three hits and three RBIs in the baseball Redmen’s 4-2 win over the Montreal Carabins.

By Earl Zukerman

Tyler Welence of Ridgewood, N.J., continued his torrid pace and collected three hits and as many runs batted in as the McGill men’s baseball team doubled the Montreal Carabins 4-2 at Gary Carter Field in Trudeau Park, Wednesday.

The result extended McGill’s unblemished record to five consecutive victories in the Canadian Collegiate Baseball Association.

Welence, a six-foot, 180-pound shortstop who leads the league with a spectacular .706 batting average, went 3-for-4 at the plate, singled in the third inning and doubled in the first and fourth innings. Over his five games, he is 12-for-17 batting with a pair of walks and 11 RBIs.

Teammate Zachary Aaron, a junior infielder from Montreal, contributed to the Redmen offence with a 2-for-3 performance at the plate and one run scored.

McGill starting pitcher Adriano Petrangelo, a science sophomore from Montreal, collected the victory, allowing just two earned runs on seven hits. He posted eight strikeouts and no walks over six innings of work. Veteran closer Simon Ehrmantraut, a senior from Vancouver, B.C., put away the final three outs to record the save.

The Redmen took an early lead with a two-run rally in the first inning on an RBI-double by Welence and a groundout by Montrealer Jamie Fuoco. After extended that to 4-0 in the fourth inning, the Carabins scored twice in the fifth on a two-run double by Samuel Groleau, who finished with a pair of RBIs on two hits. He singled in the third inning and doubled in the fifth inning.

Gabriel De Lisi was charged with the loss. He allowed four runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out six over six inning.

McGill, which sits atop the CCBA Northern Division with a 5-0 record, will put their win streak on the line against cellar-dwelling Ottawa (0-4) with an afternoon doubleheader scheduled for Saturday at Lake Road Park in suburban Dollard des Ormeaux. The first game is slated for a 12 noon start.


Royal Society of Canada honours four McGill researchers and scholars

Wed, 2014-09-10 11:54

Photo: John Kelsey

By Meaghan Thurston

On Sept. 9, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) announced 90 new Fellows, including four McGill researchers and scholars from the Faculties of Science and Medicine. Professors Nigel Roulet, Peter S. McPherson, Constantin Polychronakos and Daniel Wise will be inducted to the RSC on Saturday, Nov. 22 at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City. John Ralston Saul, a McGill alumnus, became an honorary member. They join the more than 150 McGill-affiliated Fellows inducted since 1966.

Established in 1882, the RSC is the senior national body of distinguished Canadian scholars, artists and scientists. The RSC consists of nearly 2,000 Fellows selected by their peers for outstanding contributions to the natural and social sciences, arts and humanities. As Canada’s national academy, the RSC not only recognizes academic excellence, but it also advises governments and organizations, and promotes Canadian culture.

The 2014 McGill Fellows are pursuing scholarship and research in climate variability and change, human disease, and the mathematical sciences.

“Undaunted by the complexity of their research areas, individually and collectively, these scholars have achieved excellence in their work. We are immensely proud of all the RSC honorees not only for their academic accomplishments, but for the contributions they have made to the Canadian and global communities. Through outreach and engagement, RSC Fellows encourage researchers to think differently about the applications of scholarship,” says Dr. Rosie Goldstein, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations).

Complete list of McGill-based 2014 RSC Fellows: 

Nigel Roulet – Department of Geography

Nigel Roulet / Photo:Owen Egan

Professor Roulet has made outstanding contributions to our understanding of how climate, hydrology and ecosystem structure function by uniquely combining ecohydrology and biogeochemistry, investigating the transport and transformation of elements and compounds and the greenhouse gas and carbon balance of peatlands, including their sensitivity to climate variability and change. Professor Roulet, whose work has contributed significantly to the use of science in public policy, was a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with ex-US Vice-President Al Gore.

Peter S. McPherson – Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery and the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology

Peter S. McPherson / Photo: Jean François Bérubé

Peter McPherson is a James McGill Professor and former fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Professor McPherson has made fundamental discoveries underlying the cellular and molecular basis of neurodegenerative diseases. His discoveries of the key proteins operating in clathrin-mediated endocytosis have opened a new research field, the molecular machineries for membrane trafficking. His demonstration that inositol phospholipids function directly in membrane trafficking was revolutionary. He pioneered approaches to quantify protein abundance using mass spectrometry data and discovered a new class of enzymatic regulators in membrane trafficking.


Constantin Polychronakos – Department of Pediatrics

Constantin Polychronakos

Professor Polychronakos is nominated for his work in the genetics of diabetes. As one of the first researchers to use the power of high-resolution genotyping arrays he discovered genetic variants that predispose to diabetes. Additionally, he pioneered the study of thymic expression of tissue-specific antigens. The discoveries contribute substantially to our understanding of immune self-tolerance and the genetic contribution to common diseases. Professor Polychronakos was previously elected a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, one of the highest honours for individuals in the Canadian health sciences community.


Daniel Wise – Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Daniel Wise / Photo: Steven Wise

Daniel Wise is one of the world’s top geometric group theorists. His fundamental contributions stand at the core of the most important development in geometry and topology since the proof of the Poincaré Conjecture, namely the proof of Thurston’s virtually fibered conjecture for hyperbolic three-manifolds. The profound impact and originality of Wise’s work have been recognized through several major awards, including the Veblen Prize of the American Mathematical Society.





Heartbleed: McGill will double your password if you don’t do it first, IT says

Wed, 2014-09-10 11:05

By Maria Gosselin

If you haven’t yet changed your McGill Password, it’s time to get to it.

Early next month, all faculty and staff members who did not change their password when prompted to earlier this year will have their McGill Password doubled.

For example, a staff member who has the password “McGill12” will have it changed to “McGill12McGill12,” An email will be sent out a week in advance to all affected users, giving them a final chance to change their password. After that, users who have not changed their password either have to type it out twice to log in to McGill systems (e.g. email, wireless, VPN, myCourses), or they can change it to something of their choosing.

The need to change passwords arose in April, when the Heartbleed vulnerability was revealed. Heartbleed makes systems vulnerable to data theft since attackers can use it to gain access to systems and then proceed to access and steal information without leaving a trace.

McGill’s IT Services responded quickly. The first step to mitigate any loss of information was to ensure that all of McGill’s central IT systems were evaluated and updates applied wherever needed. Once that was finished, all McGill faculty, staff and students were asked to change their McGill Password. The McGill Password length has also been increased from exactly eight characters to a variable length of eight to 18 characters.

While McGill is responsible for protecting all information systems containing sensitive information (personal, confidential, institutional and intellectual data), users have an obligation to ensure that their access to IT systems is not compromised. This means never sharing your McGill Username and Password or other credentials, even with family members, and being aware of how to spot and avoid phishing scams and other online security threats.

Every year, about 1,200 to 1,500 McGill accounts are compromised in one way or another. Cybercriminals frequently use compromised accounts to send spam, and steal whatever personal information they can. If the account belongs to someone who has access to McGill systems, the attacker can use the account to steal confidential or institutional data.

Even though our central IT systems are protected against Heartbleed, any accounts that have already been stolen still pose a security risk. Almost 20,000 members of the McGill community did change their McGill Password, but thousands more did not, and so additional actions have become necessary.

Unfortunately, Heartbleed will not be the last serious IT security threat McGill faces. Cybercriminals are continually finding exploitable flaws in software and systems, and data breaches are becoming all too common. From dealing with Heartbleed, we’ve learnt that many people do not take the threat of compromised data seriously, despite the fact they have access to confidential data and are responsible for safeguarding it. IT Services will launch additional initiatives to increase awareness of online security threats, and enhancements are being looked at that would make it mandatory to change your McGill Password yearly, much like what is currently in place for the Minerva PIN.


Pedestrian safety concerns on McTavish construction site

Wed, 2014-09-10 10:55

City of Montreal workers at the McTavish Street construction site have reported that a significant number of people have not been very attentive to the signs and regulations designed to make the site as safe as possible. Of particular concern are people wearing headphones who do not hear warning signals as equipment and trucks are backing up. This has led to a number of situations in which serious accidents have been narrowly averted.

Construction sites are inherently hazardous and the workers and City officials do everything in their power to minimize those risks. But pedestrians should also take responsibility for their own safety.

When crossing McTavish Street, pedestrians should pay special attention to the truck and equipment traffic and should be aware of and follow instructions from flagmen and signs on the site. It is most important that headphones be avoided when crossing through the construction site.

For more information about construction work being done on McTavish Street, go here.


Four Burning Questions for Audra Simpson, professor of Anthropology at Columbia University

Tue, 2014-09-09 16:33

Audra Simpson, McGill alumna and professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, will deliver the keynote address at the Aboriginal Homecoming event on Sept. 18.

The 4th annual Indigenous Awareness Week will be held from Sept. 15-19. Organized by the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office, the week honours the many Indigenous cultures across the country including First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

New to Awareness Week will be an Aboriginal Homecoming event to be held at the Faculty Club on Sept. 18. The event will give Aboriginal alumni a chance to meet, catch up and network.

The soirée will feature Audra Simpson, a McGill alumna who is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. In her address, Simpson will discuss the significance of McGill as a training ground for scholarship and engaged political life. In advance of her address, Professor Simpson took the time to speak with the Reporter.

What was your experience like as a McGill student?

I did my graduate work here so my experience was somewhat typical of all grad students: a combination of delight and slow sadness – this because I was undergoing intense intellectual growth while countering the constant fact that I was in my late 20s and still a student! I trained in a department that had very high expectations for written work so I was also very aware of my analysis and writing and, like other students in the department, sometimes had to revise course papers to publishable quality. That was the standard of excellence: publishable quality.

Although this was a completely tiresome process and felt like a defeating standard at the time, the long-term benefit is that it made me, at the level of my training, view writing as a process, thus I had to be fundamentally open to critique, but has also toughened me for the process of revision that all scholars go through as they publish in their professional careers.

So although this was a tough place, I learned a lot. Working with the late Bruce Trigger, a scholar’s scholar if ever there was one, was really my intellectual highlight. He was a careful and meticulous thinker that encouraged bold and critical work, but work that was well supported and well argued. I owe him debts that cannot be repaid.

I also had some good times in Montreal and also enjoyed my graduate student colleagues. We hung out at Thomson House and took advantage of the city — I went to cheap concerts ($5 ticket to see Dion Ferris at Club Soda, Celia Cruz at Jazzfest!) and really have not recovered my cooking skills since leaving. Montreal is conducive to great cooking on the cheap!

I was also 20 minutes away from Kahnawake and could be as close as I needed or wanted to be to my intellectual and political home. This was crucial for the thinking and writing and my own growth as a scholar doing work in my own community.

What are some of the challenges you encounter as an Indigenous academic?

I think in some sectors of my field I may be viewed in particular ways, and I am old both old enough and young enough to know what those ways are, to have experienced those perceptions first hand.

I got a strong sense of the sorts of things mainstream people think about Native people especially after Oka. In this, that we really matter, politically but are so fundamentally unsettling we have to be further managed and in the neoliberal double-edged sword, as individuals somehow do not “deserve” the opportunities that we have earned, that we do not work, etc., or that we do not exist. Or that we are fundamentally “difficult.”

As well, there are specific stereotypes and expectations that attach to us depending upon what nation we are and where we are from. As Mohawk (and in this, Haudenosaunee) people we speak from the long history of relationship to territory and to others in our homelands, and are compelled to speak clearly and truthfully, from minds unencumbered by grief or pathos. And also, to listen to others. So I always found it ridiculous that we, especially we would be perceived as people that do not act or speak according to principles of fairness and reason.

Again, I am old enough to remember and to know these things and to have been treated in particular ways and by scholars senior to me, scholars who should have been mentors to me, so I know this to empirically be true and also to effect opportunities. But I stayed the course and worked very hard and there were and still are good people mentoring me along the way, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. I have learned so much from them, and they make me a better teacher and mentor for others.

Now that I teach in the ’States there is the overwhelming and almost hegemonic idea that we are dead! So my very presence upsets and defies that idea but my teaching and research also reveal in a scholarly manner, where these ideas come from and how they are used to undermine indigenous agency and sovereignty.

What advice do you have for Indigenous students pursuing higher education?

1) What you are doing is virtuous and is good. You are not wasting your time. Your parents and your family are proud of you and they will sing your praises to everyone, but maybe not to you. They are holding their praise so you can be strong in yourself and not get an inflated sense of yourself that will serve you poorly among other Native people. That doesn’t mean that they do not love you and are not rooting for you.

2) Take care of yourself, eat well, sleep well, exercise. A healthy body is also a healthy mind.

3) Seek out other Native students; they are going through the same thing, they come from the same place. These will be your friends for life.

4) If you feel overwhelmed and stressed, clear your mind with exercise or something like this, but also ask for help. What you are doing is challenging, many of us do not come from University backgrounds and this requires adjustment – sitting in a chair and reading for four straight hours? Listening to someone lecture for two hours? This alone requires adjustment, and the students here may not be people that seem at first blush to be friendly or nice, or people you want to hang out with. You may find out otherwise! But if it gets too daunting and you feel overwhelmed or extremely isolated ask for help. Go to the study skills workshop, go to the First Peoples’ House. Don’t be shy, or at least, be shy amongst others that may be experiencing the same thing.

5) Having a degree from McGill can only be an asset, so keep up the good, hard work. It will pay off in the end, and by this I don’t not only mean economic opportunity.

As the keynote speaker for the Indigenous Homecoming event, what are you going to be talking about? 

I will talk about McGill’s historic relationship to Native people and specifically to Haudenosaunee at Six Nations. I will examine how that history of financial transfer and gain may inform McGill’s relationship to Indigenous peoples and in general what that micro-history means to representational and political questions at McGill, and the larger question of justice in settler colonial settings. What is McGill’s obligation, based on this history, based on its location on Haudenosaunee territory, to Haudenosaunee peoples and to Indigenous peoples more broadly? How does this augment rather than detract from a scholarly commitment to excellence and to the ongoing project to being “world class” research institution? Is there an ethical obligation embedded within this project if it is itself indebted to unpaid debt to Indigenous peoples?

Finally, Native scholars that are at the forefront of their fields are McGill graduates. Among these are Ned Blackhawk, Shoshone, Yale Professor, class of ’92 (BA honours history), Dale Turner, Temagami Anishnabe, Dartmouth Professor, class of ’98 (PhD Political Science) and many Master’s students, law students, and certificate holders who work and live in their communities. In spite of a fraught history some of the best and the brightest of Indigenous North America have trained here and work in ethical and familial obligation to home, how can this be augmented for the future?

 To read more about the Aboriginal Homecoming event and Indigenous Awareness Week, go here.