Toronto Trailblazers 2020: Janet Smylie is tracking COVID-19 in Indigenous communities

One of Canada’s first Métis physicians is leading the charge in assessing the pandemic’s impact on people who live both on- and off-reserve

For over 25 years, Janet Smylie, one of Canada’s first Métis doctors, has made it her mission to bring awareness to the injustices faced by the Indigenous community and to foster progress in the country’s health-care system.

Not only has she practised and taught medicine in urban, rural and remote Indigenous communities, but Smylie developed and directs Well Living House, the Indigenous health research unit at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. There, she is also a public health researcher at the Centre for Urban Health Solutions, and holds a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Applied Public Health Research Chair in Indigenous Health Knowledge and Information – all the while continuing her work as a staff physician.

Having grown up in a large family that always encouraged advocating for your people and speaking out on injustice, Smylie was raised to be a torchbearer.

“Much of my family had already done a lot of heavy lifting in their lives, which meant I grew up with opportunities and privileges that mitigated some of the harms linked to anti-Indigenous racism and gender inequality,” she says. “I ended up not really understanding why we have a society in which some people are devalued and have less access to social resources because of gender, identity, race, ethnicity, economic status, sexual orientation, ability.

“Of course I get many of the ‘isms’ – I have my intersectional share of them as a two-spirited Métis mother and grandmother,” she continues, “but at a fundamental level, I still try and question, ‘Why does it have to be this way?’  The tension between the values I was brought up with and the day-to-day injustices fuels my commitment to action.”

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