UM Today | Rady Faculty of Health Sciences

July 9, 2024 —

Margaret Hart’s (M.Ed./21) career took an unexpected turn when she joined the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences in 2022.

“When I was approached, I thought, ‘Can I really move from math to health education?’”

Hart, originally from Pimicikamak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, has more than 20 years of experience in education. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Brandon University, she spent her early career teaching in northern communities, immersed in local languages ​​and culture.

She then worked for over a decade as a mathematics specialist and helped develop the Manitoba First Nation School System, Canada’s first culturally relevant, First Nations-led school system, which launched in 2017.

In 2021, Hart completed her Masters in Education and was approached by Debra Beach Ducharme (B.Ed/85, M.Ed/09), Director of Indigenous Health Integration at UM’s Ongomiizwin – Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing, to join the College of Rehabilitation Sciences as an Indigenous Scientist.

Hart was initially skeptical, but was quickly drawn to the collaborative work that the university’s dean, Dr. Reg Urbanowski, was doing with communities. She was impressed by a health and wellness partnership, established in 2016, that has enabled the university to provide rehabilitation services to more than 10 First Nations communities.

Part of that initiative involves meeting directly with community members to learn about their unique needs. “It’s a service-learning approach where students work with local people to shape the trajectory of the work,” Hart says. “Community-engaged learning is experiential, reciprocal, and involves the application of course content to real life.”

Today, Hart is the Rady Faculty’s first Ininiw (Cree) scholar, a role she anchors in the Ininimowin knowledge system. In consultation with communities, she transforms the occupational therapy curriculum to integrate Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing.

The revamped curriculum, expected to go into effect in 2026, will incorporate philosophies grounded in the Ininiw language. For example, students will learn about storytelling, relational accountability, holistic wellness, and cultural safety.

“Indigenous communities are eager to have culturally safe occupational therapists who understand their healing styles and can identify the gaps in health care they experience compared to other Manitoba residents,” Hart said.

Hart is now pursuing her doctorate in education at UM, with a research focus on curriculum theory. She is preparing to publish a study based on the experiences of Indigenous scholars across Canada who are indigenizing post-secondary curricula.

In another area of ​​research, she is a co-investigator (with Dr. Amine Choukou, associate professor of occupational therapy) on a project exploring technology-enabled care systems that benefit indigenous peoples.

Part of the project involves developing digital health approaches for elders in Pimicikamak Cree Nation – Hart’s home community – that can then be replicated in other First Nations. Solutions may include remotely controlled telepresence robots and virtual reality programmed to use the community’s local language.

According to Hart, the first step is to understand the needs of older adults in the community, including what technologies they currently use. Then, digital health solutions must be developed that are rooted in their knowledge systems and specific needs.

“Community engagement is what I’ve been doing my whole life,” she says. “It’s what gives me purpose.”