For our final post celebrating National Indigenous History Month we are jumping back to the present to highlight Dr. Cornelia (Nel) Wieman, the first Indigenous female psychiatrist in Canada.
Dr. Wieman is an Anishinaabe woman from Manitoba, Little Grand Rapids First Nation. She grew up very poor with her adoptive non-Indigenous family as a victim of the Sixties Scoop. She had very little exposure to medicine prior to her entrance into McMaster University. After graduating from McMaster in 1993 with a medical degree and training in psychiatry, she became laser focused on improving the health and mental health of Indigenous Peoples and fighting Indigenous racism.
Being honoured with the Indspire award in 1998 spurred Dr. Wieman’s journey into becoming an advocate for Indigenous Peoples, giving a voice to those that were mostly silent in Canada’s healthcare system. Her career is inspiring given her very humble beginnings. Dr. Wieman began her career by providing psychiatric services at the Six Nations of the Grand River community mental health centre before becoming the co-director of the Indigenous Health Research Development Program at the University of Toronto, and a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine. She has supported Indigenous Peoples experiencing mental illness in numerous ways at organizations such as the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, and Toronto’s YWCA Elm Centre. Dr. Wieman was also the Founding Director, and then Faculty Advisor, to the Indigenous Students Health Sciences Office in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University.
In 2018, after 20 years of clinical practice, she was appointed the Senior Medical Officer, Mental Health & Wellness at British Columbia’s First Nations Health Authority. In this role she tackled two public health crises at once, the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid crisis. Dr. Wieman was chosen to be President of the Board of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada (IPAC) in 2016 where she serves as an example for aspiring Indigenous medical students across the nation
Her work to combat Indigenous racism led to her appointment as the Provincial Task Team to respond to the In Plain Sight report which addressed anti-Indigenous racism within British Columbia’s healthcare system. She also co-chaired the Cultural Safety and Humility (CSH) Technical Committee that developed a provincial standard to help create a culturally safe environment and end Indigenous racism in the health system. It is scheduled to be released this year.
In recognition of her significant contributions as a Canadian, in 2013 she received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.