Aboriginal Studies Student Justin Leigh Struss Receives 2014 IDERD Award

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The International Day for the Elimination of Racism (IDERD) recently announced the winners of the 2014 IDERD Awards. Aboriginal Studies is extremely proud to see one of our students on that list. Justin Leigh Struss is a fourth year student studying health studies, environmental geography and Aboriginal studies here at the University of Toronto. Justin is also the Director of Technical Affairs for the Health Studies Students’ Union at University College where he recently helped develop the First Nations Reading Week Exchange Program.

Before attending U of T, Justin’s knowledge about Indigenous worldviews was limited. As an aspiring nurse practitioner, Justin was interested in cultural concepts of health and he enrolled in the Aboriginal studies course, Indigenous Health Systems. Justin was exposed to cultural perspectives that not only expanded his concepts of healing but also provided him with new insights into processes of knowledge acquisition surrounding health.

“Making room for multiple viewpoints can enrich education, learning, and research,” explains Justin. He felt that Aboriginal perspectives on health and healing were overlooked and proposed a student exchange within Ontario to the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve. Partnering with Canada Roots Exchange – a registered charity that provides Indigenous based leadership, learning, and reconciliation experiences for youth – Justin organized the first exchange program in February 2012. Now in its third year, the exchange brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous students together to build relationships, combine multiple perspectives, and work towards reconciliation.

Not only do Indigenous and non-Indigenous students learn from one another, they are also given the opportunity to engage in dialogue with community leaders, knowledge holders, and Elders from the Six Nations community. “The exchange fosters open-spirited dialogue and allows you to learn from people who are much wiser than you are”. For Justin, bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities helps build alliances that increase collective knowledge. Justin witnessed an example of alliance building in the partnership forged between Traditional Midwives from the Six Nations Birthing Centre and Western doctors from nearby hospitals. For Justin, this relationship demonstrated that, “Traditional medicine and Western biomedicine can work synergistically without the colonization of traditional knowledge”.

Justin has been transformed by his exposure to new worldviews and alternate processes for building health systems and strategies. Justin has been accepted to the Faculty of Nursing here at U of T, and hopes to use this education to affect positive change by continuing to seek out and bring together multiple worldviews and perspectives without the domination of one over the other.