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Congratulations to our 2021 Canadian Vanier Scholars - Shanna Peltier and Sandra Osazuwa

July 2021

Vanier Scholar 2021 - Shanna P and Sandra O

Left to Right: Shanna Peltier (photo credit: Naomi Peltier Photography on Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory) and Sandra Osazuwa (photo credit: Margot Daley).

A huge congratulations goes out to Shanna Peltier and Sandra Osazuwa on being named our 2021 Canadian Vanier Scholars! Sandra will be starting her second year in the doctoral (PhD) Clinical and Counselling Psychology program this September while Shanna Peltier looks forward to starting her second year in the doctoral School and Clinical Child Psychology program.

Meet both Vanier recipients below to learn more about their research, journey to OISE and their future plans. 

Shanna Peltier - Vanier Scholar

Shanna Peltier

CIHR 2021 Vanier Scholar
Area of Research: Societal & Cultural Dimensions Of Health
Title of Research proposal: Dismantling Dominant Discourse surrounding Complex Death with Urban Indigenous Youth Experience.

What is your main research focus?

My research focuses on dismantling dominant discourse about complex death, namely suicide, within Indigenous communities in Canada. The dominant discourse underpinning and largely guiding research on suicide centers the point of inquiry on pathological (e.g., depressed) individuals. This discourse has produced a narrative of Indigenous communities and peoples as ‘broken,’ or in a constant state of ‘crisis’ that warrants psycho-centric interventions claimed by psy-experts (psychologists and psychiatrists). The concept of ‘complex death’ is employed purposefully to denote a call to frame certain types of deaths (e.g., suicide or overdosing) as requiring in-depth, critical, ethical, and compassionate considerations of historical, social, structural, ecological, cultural, and economic factors as contributors to complex deaths. At the core, my work aims to establish Indigenous suicide as a response to a world in which structural violence is rampant and colonial powers continue to impinge upon Indigenous livability.

My work draws attention to Indigenous suicide and suicidality to redefine what it means to be a health issue. This dissertation work aims to dismantle discourses of tragedy that center individual pathology and crisis. Instead, making the colonial nation-state accountable to Indigenous peoples and communities in their pursuit of life promotion and living well. Moving beyond or complementing individual interventions facilitated by psy-experts; towards advocating for structural and material reparations (e.g., increased economic support, ending boil water advisories, providing adequate housing, food security, honouring treaty rights to land, addressing over-incarceration, police surveillance, and the child welfare system). These unredressed or unabolished systems contribute to the intergenerational suffering within Indigenous communities fuelled by ongoing colonial injustice. My dissertation will involve working with Indigenous communities to develop a suicide prevention strategy that promotes Indigenous life, sovereignty, and justice.

Can you describe your journey to OISE? 

I am an Anishinaabe kwe, and I grew up on reserve in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory located on the beautiful Mnidoo Mnis (Manitoulin Island), Ontario. I graduated from high school on-reserve and completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies at Laurentian University. Over the years leading up to attending OISE, I held various Research Assistant positions with the Aboriginal Children’s Health and Well-being Measure (ACHWM), Indigenous Mentorship Network of Ontario (IMNO), and Health Sciences North Research Institute (HSNRI). I also volunteered with the Choices Program at Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre. I worked with ‘at-risk’ Indigenous youth in this role, facilitating lessons on various subjects related to health, prevention, harm reduction, and social skills such as communication, self-respect, decision making, healthy relationships, and substance/alcohol abuse. In addition, I worked in various capacities for the Wikwemikong Health Centre as a

Youth Liaison Worker, Health Conference Coordinator, and FASD Awareness Event Coordinator. In the third year of my undergrad, I attended a 2-month paid research internship at McMaster University, where I worked under the supervision of a historian in researching the Sixties Scoop and transnational adoption. Furthermore, I currently hold multiple advisory and representative positions with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Ontario Indigenous Youth Partnership Project (OYIPP), and the First Nations Community of Inquiry and Praxis (FNCIP).

Ultimately, my desire to attend OISE was motivated by multiple factors: the first was to learn more about school and clinical child psychology (SCCP) and help children, youth, and their families understand their challenges and foster wellbeing. Secondly, I saw the proximity of the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development (APHD) to the Department of Social Justice Education (SJE) at OISE. I wanted to immerse myself in the worlds of applied psychology and social justice to unlock new, creative, socio-structural, and justice-oriented interventions to Indigenous mental health and wellbeing. Last, I wanted to work with a supervisor conducting community-based research with Indigenous peoples. I was truly fortunate to be accepted as a MA student (and continuing as a Ph.D. student) by Dr. Jeffrey Ansloos, who has surpassed all my hopes in terms of mentorship, scholarship, research experience, community accountability, and challenging me to dream of the type of life-nourishing world I want to envision for Indigenous young people, and communities. In the end, I hope that my journey can inspire Indigenous youth to chase their passions and potential - whether that pursuit leads them into the academe or not.

What are your future plans?

I hope to advocate relentlessly for the socio-structural changes needed to make life feel livable for Indigenous youth and Indigenous peoples. I intend to complete my Ph.D. and become a registered psychologist so that my word (unfortunately) may carry more weight in certain circles. My dream is to somehow have the best of both worlds (community and institution) by moving home to Wiikwemkoong to provide psychological services, being involved in community-based research, and training new students, particularly Indigenous students, to care for their communities. My grandma Sara Peltier advocated for increasing Indigenous student educational obtainment and established the Wikwemikong High School (a place I proudly graduated from in 2013). I want to follow in her footsteps, and I am guided by her ethics of community care and education. I want Indigenous youth to see applied psychology as a discipline amid transformation. This transformation will continue to be made possible through the perspectives and unapologetic inclusion of Indigenous students, scholars, and communities. I want Indigenous youth to feel supported in their dreams for a better tomorrow, and I hope to see a future where suicide no longer burdens the minds of Indigenous young people in this country.

Sandra O - Vanier Scholar 2021

Sandra Osazuwa

SSHRC 2021 Vanier Scholar
Area of Research: Psychotherapy
Title of Research proposal: Divine Intervention: Examining the Influence of Faith-based Healing on the Professional Mental Health Help-Seeking Attitudes, Behaviours & Experiences of Canada’s African Descendants.

What is your main research focus?

My clinical work and research are on enhancing the mental health of marginalized socio-cultural communities. Under the supervision of Dr. Roy Moodley, I offer an alternative perspective from the deficit driven models often used to describe the predicaments of minority groups by considering the role and possible impact of strength-based and identity-congruent interventions. While I have experience working with various specialized groups, my research tends to focus on the intersectional analysis of race, culture, psychotherapy, and mental health; critiquing the mental health care for marginalized groups; and the therapeutic effects of cultural and indigenous healing practices.

A recent example of my efforts was with the research I completed for my Master's dissertation. Inspired by the increased interest in using alternative and indigenous-inspired healing approaches in the West, I sought to understand the Black community's attitudes towards African traditional healing and belief systems. Using a postcolonial framework and grounded theory methodology, I was able to identify engagement barriers towards culturally integrative interventions and capture suggestions to improve treatment outcomes. I have also recently co-authored a book chapter on the 'Configurations of race and culture in mental health' with Dr. Moodley in The Routledge International Handbook of Race, Culture and Mental Health. Within it, the mental health access challenges cultural minorities faced historically and presently are acknowledged, and clinical insights for barrier reduction using practices informed by Critical Race Theory were provided.

I am using my research and leadership abilities to serve as the research coordinator and collaborator for two long-term projects with Dr. Rupaleem Bhuyan that focus on immigrant communities. The first project is a national survey that explores the attitudes of social workers towards immigrants and the impact of current immigration policies on their practices for working with precarious status communities. The second initiative is a collaborative project with the University of Victoria to understand how bordering practices, immigration policies, and systemic racism shape the experiences of immigrant children, youth and families within the Canadian child welfare system.

Can you describe your journey to OISE? 

I am a second-generation Nigerian Canadian born in North York and then raised in Brampton during my adolescent years. Focusing on my interest in community development, social advocacy and mental health, I enrolled in the Honours Psychology co-op program at the University of Waterloo and pursued a double minor in Sexuality, Marriage & Families and

Human Resource Management. During that time, I leverage the co-op program to gain research experience as an assistant and coordinator. I also volunteered with the University of Waterloo's Black Association of Student Expression (UWBASE) for five years, serving in the executive roles of Secretary and President.

After graduating, I worked as a research assistant for St. Joseph's Hamilton Healthcare's Concurrent Disorders program, where we focused on increasing the knowledge capacity of staff members and facilitated successful community transitions by providing holistic treatment approaches. I also volunteered for the Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton Area (SACHA) to support women and men who have been affected by sexual violence using feminist and trauma-informed frameworks.

I chose to attend OISE because of its unmatched institutional commitment to improving individuals and communities' socio-economic, political, and cultural well-being. Pursing my Masters and Doctoral degree in Clinical and Counselling Psychology presented the opportunity to fuse my interest in mental health with my experience in multiculturalism and EDI to holistically inform my clinical training and research initiatives. I have also continued my advocacy work by serving successive terms as the Professional Student Coordinator and President for the Black Graduate Students Association at the University of Toronto.

What are your future plans?

I plan to continue using a combination of my academic knowledge, research findings and experiences to actively make contributions to improve the experiences related to mental health for marginalized people. This goal would involve developing, implementing, and evaluating interventions and considering multi-level reconstruction methods informed by postcolonial and feminist theories. As my interests are often inspired by my personal and observed experiences, my roles as a researcher, academic and clinician. Using the training I received from my program on applied psychology approaches, I would like to embark on opportunities to research, practice and teach the concept of treatment optimization for cultural minorities and other marginalized groups.

To learn more about the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship here.