Brent Young

By Niecole Killawee | Photo: Danny Abriel (Dalhousie University)

World Health Day, celebrated every year on April 7, aims to raise awareness of an important global health priority. This year’s theme is “building a fairer, healthier world for everyone” and Brent Young (BSc’13, MSc’15, MD’19) is committed to doing just that.

Dr. Young is passionate about health advocacy, a path he began pursuing as a Dalhousie medical student when he co-founded the Student Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

He’s also Anishinaabe with family roots in Sandy Bay First Nation in Manitoba, although he was born and raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia as a result of his mother being displaced from her community during the Sixties Scoop.

Now, as a family medicine resident at the University of Calgary, he’s developed a deeper understanding of the social determinants of health and the challenges people face when they can’t access the health care they need.

“I think a lot of what we see in health-care delivery is unfair to marginalized communities, including Indigenous communities but also newcomers, people who are incarcerated, and people who are street-involved or experiencing homelessness,” says Dr. Young. “I want to see a fairer society.”

Dr. Young is committed to improving access to quality care that’s culturally appropriate and safe for Indigenous people. In Dr. Young’s opinion, eliminating the health inequities endured by Indigenous communities starts with addressing the underlying cause: colonialism. Systemic racism, unstable housing, precarious employment, food insecurity, and poor access to clean drinking water are all rooted in colonial policy and they have a profound impact on health.

“When you’re not experiencing these inequities personally, you forget how they can affect your overall health,” says Dr. Young. “Until we address these issues as a society, I don’t think we’re going to see any movement forward in terms of Indigenous health.”

Another issue has to do with how the current health-care system is set up to serve Indigenous people. In Canada, the federal government is responsible for the health care of all First Nations people living on-reserve. Those living off-reserve, like Dr. Young himself, fall under provincial jurisdiction.

“Oftentimes there are these jurisdictional disputes and at the end of the day, it’s impossible to organize and set up a comprehensive health-care system that works best for Indigenous populations,” says Dr. Young. “I’d like to see a coordinated effort to support self-determination in Indigenous health.”

This June when Dr. Young completes his family medicine residency, he’ll return to Nova Scotia and split his time practicing at both the Sipekne’katik Health & Wellness Centre and the North End Community Health Centre. He’s also working with the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre to establish a new healing lodge for the urban Indigenous community in the Halifax region.

“There’s something like 15,000 Indigenous people in Halifax—a third of the Indigenous population in Nova Scotia—and there isn’t a single clinic that serves that community,” he says. “I think that just goes to show that jurisdictional disputes and the long-term effects of colonialism really do leave swaths of the community behind.”

When asked about the driving force behind his health advocacy work, Dr. Young says it comes down to his own lived experience.

“I think a lot of this journey has been about reclaiming my place in my community and finding where I fit again. That’s been really important to me.”