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U of T scholar focuses on improving wellness in Arctic communities

Susan Chatwood with Dalla Lana associate professor Adalsteinn Brown in the Northwest Territories in 2014

Susan Chatwood with Dalla Lana Associate Professor Adalsteinn Brown in the Northwest Territories (photo provided by Susan Chatwood)

U of T Arctic scholar Susan Chatwood wants to find holistic approaches to improve community wellness in the Arctic region.

Chatwood, an assistant professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, is one of 17 Fulbright Arctic Initiative scholars, who have gathered in Washington, DC this week to participate in Fulbright Arctic Week.

The Fulbright Arctic Initiative is a research program which includes scholars from the Arctic Council’s eight member countries – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States – who study and assess the changing Arctic region. The initiative focuses on energy, water, health and infrastructure issues, and is sponsored by the governments of Canada, United States and Finland. 

“This week is important because it’s a unique opportunity for us Arctic scientists to learn new approaches to multidisciplinary collaboration and make policy recommendations that address pressing and interrelated challenges in the Arctic,” said Chatwood. 

Having spent most of her career in remote and northern communities, Chatwood is using her broad experience in clinical, public health and research settings to engage Arctic researchers, policy-makers, Indigenous leaders and youth, and government officials in the circumpolar region.

“The Fulbright Health and Infrastructure Group brought together expertise from engineering, urban planning, environmental science and public health to develop a more holistic and region-specific model to support multidisciplinary studies in Arctic health and well-being,” said Chatwood, who is also the executive and scientific director of the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research in Yellowknife, N.W.T.

Earlier this year, Chatwood worked with Ross Virginia, a Dartmouth College environmental science professor, on a consensus workshop that brought together Indigenous leaders, researchers, youth and policy-makers to identify the key physical, environmental, social, and economic determinants of community health and wellness in Arctic regions.

“We need to address determinants of community wellness that promote cultural continuity, improve access to training and education, address trauma, improve infrastructure and provide ongoing opportunities for multi-sector collaboration to address gaps between sectors, including infrastructure, environmental health, education, arts and public health,” said Chatwood.

The workshop infused Indigenous knowledge sharing through storytelling and a talking circle, which helped to promote holistic perspectives and more in-depth study of community wellness determinants in the Arctic. 

Chatwood also participated in the Fulbright Health and Infrastructure Group panel discussion.