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Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health

First endowed institute in the world to focus on building thriving Indigenous communities

Amira Dan, Michael Dan, Howard Hu, Jan Longboat, Madeleine Dion Stout, Jeff Reading)

The Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health is the name given to the University of Toronto’s new research institute dedicated to the health of Indigenous Canadians.

The institute – among the first of its kind in the world – was created last June with a $10 million gift from Michael and Amira Dan and received its name at a ceremony March 23 at U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. 

“I’m pleased that the Institute’s name honours both Indigenous and non-Indigenous names of Canadians who have made significant contributions to the health of all Canadians,” said Howard Hu, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

The dual name has deep significance for the University and for Michael Dan. The name “Waakebiness” means Radiant Thunderbird from the South in the Anishinaabemowin language. It was given to Dan by Kalvin Ottertail, Midewin (medicine man) of the Lac La Croix First Nations community in 2012.  

Bryce pays tribute to Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, an early critic of the residential school system and a U of T graduate. Bryce founded the Public Health Service of Ontario and served as chief medical officer with the departments of the Interior and Indian Affairs from1904 to 1907.

In 1907, Bryce issued a report criticizing public health standards in the residential school system of Western Canada where 24 per cent of students died of communicable disease, primarily tuberculosis. The statistics became public in 1922 when Bryce published The Story of a National Crime: Being a Record of the Health Conditions of the Indians of Canada from 1904 to 1921.

“I’m tremendously proud that this Institute will pay tribute to my Indigenous friends while recognizing Dr. Peter Bryce’s courageous attempt at saving Indigenous children from the ravages of Tuberculosis in the early part of the 20th century,” said Dan.

The Institute will identify and cultivate partnerships with Indigenous communities, support Indigenous faculty and trainees and provide seed funding to support pilot projects. This work will be founded on respectful, sustainable and equal partnerships between Indigenous communities and the University of Toronto, said Hu.

The naming ceremony coincided with the Spring Equinox. The Honourable David Zimmer, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, The Right Honourable Paul Martin, Jeff Reading, interim director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, Bryce family representatives and Indigenous elders and thought leaders celebrated the Institute’s name and highlighted its vision for cultivating thriving Indigenous communities.

“Thanks to the Dan family’s generous donation, the Institute will conduct world-class research and academic training opportunities targeted towards innovative health interventions that contribute to thriving Indigenous communities in Canada and across the world,” said Hu.

(Read a Q&A about the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health. Read the Globe and Mail article. Read the Toronto Star article.)