My name is Priscilla Jennifer Gardipy, but everyone knows me as Jenny. I was born and raised on Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation in Treaty 6 Territory.
I overcame many personal struggles to graduate from the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) in 2011 with a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. This was a highlight of my life because I was the first in my immediate family to achieve a degree, so achieving a Master’s was extra-special.
I always had an interest in working in health. It was an important contributing factor in my home as a child because my mother is visually impaired, and I witnessed the lack of health services that many in my community faced.
I strongly believe that Indigenous peoples have the capacity and knowledge to make healthy changes in their communities. I am passionate about taking an active role in helping communities move towards better health outcomes, which is one of the reasons I chose to study for an MPH.
The personal challenges I faced en route to the MPH program were many, not least being a mother of six children, commuting an hour one way to school and working three casual jobs.
I was nine months pregnant when I entered into my first year of university at the First Nations University of Canada. During this time, I struggled and wanted to quit but with the wisdom and strength of my mentor, Dr. Winona Wheeler, I persevered and excelled.
In 2009, I transferred to the U of S to complete my MPH degree, which I found to be one of the best moves because I was surrounded by many strong Indigenous women in leadership roles who I considered mentors, namely Dr. Janet Smylie, Dr. Caroline Tait, Dr. Winona Wheeler, and Dr. Raven Sinclair.
However, it was challenging because I was pregnant again with my sixth and last child, and I always felt I didn’t belong in my classes because I was not young and carefree. I did not know of any other Indigenous students, so I felt alone. But I continued with my degree not only because I am stubborn, but because I wanted to show my children that nothing should stand in the way of achieving something you want.
After graduating with my MPH in May 2011, I worked with national and local health organizations before becoming the Director of Health for my community, Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, in May, 2014. In this role I managed the community’s health staff, and worked with leadership, community members and the health board to create and implement a strategic plan. In December 2016, I went on to join the Health Canada First Nations and Inuit Health Branch as Director of Business Operations for the Saskatchewan Region.
The MPH degree gave me tools and knowledge to create policies, incorporate evaluation tools for programs, measure outcomes, and understand the importance of collaboration, that have been applicable wherever I have worked.
I credit my successful professional journey to my MPH and the powerful Indigenous women at the U of S that I consider my mentors, without whom it would not have been possible to complete my degree. These women gave me the hope and inspiration to achieve my goal.
The colonial powers of Indian Residential Schools, governmental oppressive policies and systemic racism contributed to the lack of pride and confidence I had as an Indigenous woman prior to attending university.
For that reason, I believe working to indigenize the U of S is important to create a culturally safe environment for Indigenous students and staff.
With acts of decolonization, such as attending a university where there are prominent Indigenous leaders, along with indigenizing the physical environment, I feel Indigenous students will feel empowered and be more encouraged to attend the U of S.
I now have three children at home, and four grandchildren. I am proud to say that my oldest daughter received her bachelor’s degree in Education from the U of S. I believe in being the change I want to see in my family.
Written by Jenny Gardipy.