A member of Yellow Quill First Nation from Saskatchewan, Canada, Jaris Swidrovich is a popular speaker and educator for the International Indigenous Speakers Bureau (IISB) and at just 32 years of age, he has much wisdom to impart. His passion for health, education, and how Indigenous and marginalized people are impacted at local, provincial, national and international levels has driven his continuous education journey.

Jaris Swidrovich has earned numerous degrees, including a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.), a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy (BSP) and a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Toronto. “My [education] journey is still ongoing right now—I’m doing a PhD in Education,” he explains. “I began my current PhD a year and a half ago, studying under Maggie Kovach, who literally wrote the book on Indigenous research.”

He notes, “We’re going through an interesting time right now in education at all levels, primary, secondary, and post-secondary, in that Indigenous ways of knowing, being and thinking are starting to be represented, celebrated and reflected in the curriculum Swidrovich is currently focused on melding pharmacy and education together, and integrating Indigenous concepts into pharmacy, on a local and national level. He notes that so much of education is fueled by Eurocentric or Western worldviews, and many of the resources that talk about Indigenous knowledge have not come from Indigenous people, although that is beginning to change.

“Schools are starting to use Indigenous authorship and teachers to share relevant content. In this era of truth and reconciliation… education as a collective has taken many meaningful leaps to answer those calls to action,” says Swidrovich. “Are we there yet? No. I don’t know if anyone necessarily knows what or where ‘there’ is, but it’s a journey we can all walk forward on together.”

Swidrovich notes it’s reassuring and even exciting to see higher education have more Indigenous leadership, and he wants to see the hiring of Indigenous people continue at all levels in diverse educational environments and institutions.

 “In Saskatchewan, specifically over the last decade or more, about 25% of all kids in kindergarten have been Indigenous. As the population continues to grow in Indigenous proportion, what do our primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions look like in terms of enrollment and representation in the administration and faculties?” Swidrovich asks, noting the lack of relatable role models and the obvious educational gaps that still exist.

He notes that despite the many challenges and gaps of Indigenous content in education as a whole, the pieces that do exist changed everything for him. “It was through education that I was able to participate in my first sweat lodge, my first pipe ceremony and other ceremonies,” Swidrovich recalls. “I interacted with Elders and other Indigenous communities at large to learn the history my family shared with other Indigenous folks across the world.” He always encourages young people to be curious and ask questions. “Don’t feel like you, as an Indigenous student or youth, need to be responsible for educating everyone on Indigenous history and worldviews.”

When sharing about an Indigenous worldview or perspective, Swidrovich reminds his listeners that we are all individuals. No general statement encopasses all Indigenous peoples. There is also a vast diversity within our Indigenous communities that come with unique histories and cultures. He also stresses the importance of intersectionality, identifying that each individual has multiple identities, bodies, genders and sexual identities, and mixed ancestries. He points out that we are each more complex and diverse than just simply being Indigenous, and it’s important to discover ourselves throughout our education journeys.

Swidrovich has given more than one hundred presentations focusing on terminology and basic history, and summarizing the ‘60s scoop which impacted his family through his mother. He also highlights what pharmaceutical and healthcare professionals should know to be able to deliver health services, or address academic audiences to deliver educational teaching and learning practices.

He thrives off challenges and says if there’s a path of no resistance, what is being overcome? Currently a full-time PhD student and a full-time faculty member in a tenure track position at the University of Saskatchewan, Swidrovich also has family obligations, and personal, health and fitness commitments.

“Staying balanced is an absolute challenge,” he says, noting that time and goal management are crucial to his roles in his community. One critique he has of many educational programs is the way students are admitted, assessed and evaluated. This process is not always congruent with Indigenous practices, making Indigenous students appear to perform poorly in terms of grade point averages, but this is not the full picture.

He believes that schools don’t always represent potential and ability because their current practices for admission, assessment and evaluation treat people differently, based on their backgrounds, worldviews and lived experiences.

“As a pharmacy student I did not perform spectacularly, but I am a great pharmacist— this is where my grades don’t reflect my ability,” notes Swidrovich. “There are certain roadblocks in the way for many youth and students who may not consider or get into a professional college but still have the potential to be the world’s best lawyer, dentist or pharmacist.”

He hopes that post-secondary institutions will start to change their recruitment and assessment practices to recognize the multi-facets of skills that can help people excel in careers as well as in educational settings. In the meantime, he continues to advocate for change from within and without!

Interview provided by Communications Specialist, Andréa Ledding