Jia Li, from Beijing, China, was welcomed to the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC) on a 13-week internship coordinated by Mitacs, a non-profit organization that matches students in research and training programs in Canada.
Her role, as a research assistant, specialized in quantitative data from the organization’s community-based research. She also participated in the research work by going out into the field in the focused communities—something that she didn’t expect to partake in.
“I think the research IPHRC does is great and meaningful. Indigenous people face a certain set of realities because of the history and past. The researchers are there to help them out through the studies,” she says. “I love community-based research because we get data from the community, but we also give back to the community.”
Jia participated in IPHRC’s annual tipi camp that was held in the last week of July. She describes her experience as amazing, as she saw first-hand, the researchers in the field.
“I experienced the First Nations culture. I did a lot of things that I haven’t done before like archery, washed hides, smudged, cleaned sage, learned how to bead, and I liked sleeping in a tipi. I loved playing on the land--I think it’s better than to sit at a computer all day,” she adds.
IPHRC staff treated Jia with the utmost respect and made her experience a worthy one to remember. Jia was invited to a few local pow-wows, which was an awe-experience for her.
“I liked the dancing. I think it’s wonderful when [the dancers] dance to the beat. Powwow is really important to Indigenous people. It shows their respect to the land by dancing like animals of the land. They pray for others through dancing.
IPHRC incorporates intergenerational mentorship amongst its staff members, research affiliates and community partners, which was instilled by IPHRC’s late director, Dr. Jo-Ann Episkenew. Jia credits all the IPHRC staff for stepping in to mentor her as she was taught the Indigenous culture and history in her short-stay.
“I think everybody helped me out a lot. I think everybody is a role model here to teach jokes. They are always joking around,” she laughs reflecting back on humorous memories.
She has gained many memories to take back with her to China to share with her parents, her three younger siblings and her friends.
“Understanding the culture makes me open-minded. I learned another culture through experience. I may introduce the Indigenous culture to others; I think that’s a great experience. It makes me understand more about the Indigenous people and why they are doing this research,” she says.
Jia describes the work atmosphere back in China as some kind of patriarch relationship between the employer and their employees, but at IPHRC, she describes everyone is treated as equal. Aside from Canada’s remarkably superior air quality, Jia said she will miss the staff at IPHRC.
“I will miss everybody; the jokes they make. I really love the sweat lodge culture, and the tipi camping. I think I will be more willing to go out on the land rather than just stay in the office when I go back to China. I think it’s a really good experience.”
Jia returns back to China on September 19th to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and plans to apply to a Master’s program to study education or developmental psychology in the United States of America or in Canada.