A study in advocacy

When it comes to improving the health of Indigenous people, McCall MacBain Scholar Bryden Bukich (MDCM’26), recipient of the 2023 Elaine Kilabuk Award, has a vision honed from his experience on campus, in the community and on the basketball court.
Image by Owen Egan / Joni Dufour.

Bryden Bukich (MDCM’26) isn’t just studying medicine at McGill.

He is studying the curriculum—from a meta perspective.

The McCall MacBain Scholar and most recent recipient of the Elaine Kilabuk Award is also a graduate student of kinesiology at the University of Manitoba, where, as his thesis, he is working on an autoethnography, a critical reflection on how Indigenous health is taught at McGill.

“When I'm able to write all these findings out, I think I can contribute to helping improve health sciences’ curricula going forward,” he says, adding that although universities have come a long way, they need to go further. 

Content that challenges students to reflect more deeply about Indigenous health, more Indigenous faculty and required placements in Indigenous communities, are just some of the changes that he would like universities to implement or build on.

A thought leader in his spare time 

In addition to pursuing two degrees simultaneously, Bukich is active as an advocate.

One of the many hats he wears is as a research coordinator for the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba. With Dr. Wanda Phillips-Beck, Manitoba’s first Indigenous Research Chair in Nursing, he is working on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #24, which calls for all nursing and medical students in Canada to be required to take a course on Aboriginal health. He is also second author of a scoping review and methodology paper on gaps in the way Indigenous health is taught in Canadian nursing programs (publication pending).

Bukich credits the various Indigenous history courses that he took as a college and university student with opening his eyes to the way colonization has impacted the health of Indigenous people. (A land-based course helped him connect to his Métis roots—he is Métis on his mother’s side and Croatian on his father’s.) One course he took as a kinesiology student helped him become more attuned to the way colonization has affected Indigenous participation in sport.

On the ball

A basketball player from the age of six, who also played at the college level for two years, Bukich is grateful to have learned about sport from an Indigenous perspective, when, in 2017, he played for the Under 19 (U19) Team Manitoba North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) boys basketball team. He says that many of the values rooted in Indigenous sport—the emphasis on fostering relationships, playing for the benefit of health and the way it is embedded in cultural ceremonies—resonated with him and helped him understand that while competition is important, other values matter too.

Working on macro and micro levels

On a macro level, Bukich aims to support the Indigenous population through research, policy development and education. Besides his autoethnography, he recently helped organize a three-day Indigenous health leadership retreat in Winnipeg for McCall MacBain Scholars, which featured Indigenous leaders. As well, with the Indigenous Health Professions Program (IHPP), he is helping to gather Elders and Knowledge Keepers in the greater Montreal area for a symposium in May around Indigenous health and history geared to health sciences students and academic staff.

Bukich, who plans to apply for a placement in an Indigenous community in his third year, sees medicine as the most effective way for him to impact Indigenous health on a micro level. “I want to try and create that culturally safe environment that every Indigenous patient deserves, understanding the unique needs of this population and the historical significances that lots of families and communities have experienced.”

Again on a micro level, he helped support Indigenous youth as co-head coach of the NAIG 14U male basketball team during 2020–2021, the year the Games were cancelled due to the pandemic. Concerned about how this turn of events would affect youth in remote communities where there is limited access to high-level coaching and programming at the best of times, Bukich developed an online training program in which he taught basketball and workout programming as well as life skills. He most recently coached the 19U male basketball team at NAIG 2023 and remains a mentor to some of his athletes regarding their education.

Bukich has also taken the initiative to contact the Quebec Indigenous sporting body to see if he could set up basketball camps and educational mentorship in Quebec Indigenous communities.

Additionally, he mentors aspiring medical students from underrepresented populations through the McGill Mentorships in Healthcare Program. “It's all in that story of having mentors and coaches in my life and then being able to do that for the next generation,” he says.

Bukich, who is extremely thankful for receiving the Elaine Kilabuk Award, acknowledges how much his family as well as academic and community mentors and basketball coaches have contributed to his success. “The values they carry, the way they have impacted people, their strength and resilience  and how they show patience and interest in supporting my goals always motivate me to do the same for others and the next generation.”

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