Community, Culture, Curriculum

Margaret Hart in the Brodie Atrium at Bannatyne campus, behind her are flags and an Indigenous mural.

Margaret Hart’s [M.Ed./21] career took an unexpected turn when she joined the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences in 2022.

“When I was approached, I thought, ‘Can I really go from mathematics to health ed­ucation?’”

Hart, originally from Pimicikamak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, has more than 20 years’ experience in education. After earning her bachelor’s degree at Bran­don University, she spent her early career as a teacher in northern communities, im­mersed in local languages and culture.

She then worked for more than a de­cade as a math specialist, helping to devel­op the Manitoba First Nation School System, Canada’s first culturally relevant, First Na­tions-led school system, launched in 2017.

In 2021, Hart completed her master’s in education and was approached by Debra Beach Ducharme [B.Ed/85, M.Ed/09], di­rector of Indigenous health integration at UM’s Ongomiizwin – Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing, about joining the College of Rehabilitation Sciences as an In­digenous scholar.

Skeptical at first, Hart was soon drawn in by the collaborative work that college dean Dr. Reg Urbanowski was doing with communities. She was impressed by a health-and-wellness partnership, estab­lished in 2016, that has enabled the college to deliver rehabilitation services to more than 10 First Nations communities.

Part of that initiative involves meet­ing directly with community members to learn about their unique needs. “It’s an approach to service learning in which stu­dents engage with local people to shape the trajectory of the work,” Hart says. “Com­munity-engaged learning is experiential, reciprocal and involves real-life applica­tion of course content.”

Today, Hart is the Rady Faculty’s first Ininiw (Cree) scholar, a role that she an­chors in the Ininimowin knowledge system. In consultation with communities, she is transforming the occupational therapy cur­riculum to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing.

The revamped curriculum, expect­ed to be in place in 2026, will incorporate philosophies based in the Ininiw language. Students will learn, for example, about sto­rytelling, relational accountability, holistic wellness and cultural safety.

“Indigenous communities want to see culturally safe occupational therapists who understand their ways of healing and can identify gaps in health services that they experience, compared with other Manito­bans,” Hart says.

Hart is now pursuing her UM doctorate in education, with a research focus on cur­riculum theory. She is preparing to publish a study based on the experiences of Indige­nous scholars across Canada who are Indig­enizing post-secondary curricula.

In another area of research, she is co-in­vestigator (with Dr. Amine Choukou, as­sociate professor of occupational therapy) on a project exploring Indigenous-friendly technology-assisted health systems.

Part of the project involves developing digital health approaches for elderly people in Pimicikamak Cree Nation – Hart’s home community – that could then be applied in other First Nations. Solutions could include remote-controlled telepresence robots and virtual reality that is programmed to use the community’s local language.

Hart says the first step is to understand the needs of older adults in the communi­ty, including what technologies they cur­rently use, and then develop digital health solutions that are rooted in their knowledge systems and specific needs.

“Community engagement is what I’ve been doing my whole life,” she says. “This is what gives me purpose.”