The Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA), Queen’s University, and the Mastercard Foundation partner to transform healthcare in Northeastern Ontario and to expand educational and employment opportunities for Indigenous youth by creating the Queen’s Weeneebayko Health Education Program.
WAHA and Queen’s Health Sciences will jointly develop the university’s curriculum for training health professionals in the western region of James Bay. This program will prepare Indigenous students for careers in medicine, nursing, midwifery, and other health professions through a culturally informed education. Programming and resources will also be created to enable local youth to envision, pursue, and succeed in health professions training from high school.
“This is a very important initiative for the Weeneebayko Region that will help increase the capacity for culturally safe healthcare directed and delivered by healthcare professionals from our community,” said Lynne Innes, President and Chief Executive, Weeneebayko Area Health Authority. “It’s great to work together on a new approach that will support Indigenous youth as they pursue healthcare careers and build stronger, healthier futures for the communities we serve.”
This initiative aims to address the health challenges facing remote indigenous communities, including low accessibility to providers and facilities, the need for cultural safety, disparities in health outcomes, and underrepresentation of indigenous peoples among health professionals.
“This project builds on the longstanding relationship between Queen’s, the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority and the people of the James Bay area,” said the Honorable Murray Sinclair, Queen’s Chancellor. “It offers hope for Reconciliation through a new approach to educating and supporting Indigenous youth in pursuing careers in health. I believe this can help provide the transformation needed in Indigenous health care in Canada.”
The vision is to establish a new training site in Moosonee which will serve the coastal community site. Training programs will help build comprehensive, sustainable, and community-centred healthcare—improving patient outcomes and addressing gaps in delivery. Training in Indigenous communities will support the retention of a workforce and graduate professionals capable of providing culturally appropriate care.
The Mastercard Foundation is involved in this partnership through its EleV Programme, which aims to support 100,000 Indigenous youth on their path through education and meaningful livelihoods by 2030. The Mastercard Foundation is committing more than $31 million to support this partnership.
“The Foundation makes a commitment to support sustainable systemic change in education and healthcare delivery such as youth-led, community and First Nations leadership in the region,” said Jennifer Brennan, Canada Program Director at the Mastercard Foundation.
“WAHA’s deep partnership with Queen’s University, and their shared experience and expertise, has the potential for real transformation in the region and beyond. Our goal is to support innovative approaches that create meaningful opportunities for First Nations youth based on their culture, values and aspirations.”
The healthcare professions training program builds on nearly six decades of relationship between Queen’s health facilities and the Weeneebayko Area anchored in training, frontline care and research. Applications can start as early as September 2025, with a final enrollment of 240 students per year, across all health professions.
The curriculum will be co-developed by WAHA and Queen’s, with guidance from community members. Key aspects include:
The decolonization approach: Customary ways of knowing are integrated throughout.
Interprofessional: an interprofessional curriculum designed to break down professional silos and prepare graduates to provide patient care using a team-based approach.
Guidance: mentoring programs into practice will promote graduate retention within the local community.
Culturally safe treatment: training will be placed within Indigenous communities and will graduate professionals who are prepared to provide the care their communities need.
Storage: recruitment, placement, and student guidance strategies to retain program graduates in Indigenous communities in the long term.
The partnership will also establish the Healthcare Career Pathway Program to provide career counseling, resources, mentorship, and application support, as well as establish access to prerequisite courses to support applications in the health sciences. As part of the program’s soft launch, high school students from the WAHA community are taking part in a week-long immersive health sciences camp at Queen’s in August 2022.
“This program will support the transformation of Indigenous health – improving regional health outcomes, closing gaps in care delivery, and building Indigenous health workforces,” said Jane Philpott, Dean, Queen’s Health Sciences. “We look forward to building this dynamic educational model together with the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority and local indigenous leaders, and we are grateful to the Mastercard Foundation for supporting this important work.”