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Sean Hillier, Faculty

Sean Hillier, Faculty

"I grew up fairly poor as a young gay kid in rural Newfoundland. That experience really defined my interest in looking at access - thinking about how policy impacts the delivery of healthcare and social services to LGBBTIQQ2SA and First Nations people, to people of low socio-economic status, people of colour, and Indigenous Peoples more broadly. From a very young age I understood what it meant to live in relative/generational poverty and this pushed my family towards a life that was different than what previous generations had achieved or thought was possible.

My accomplishments are not my own, but a product of the sacrifices of my whole family, and specifically my mother, who as a single parent, went to great lengths to ensure that I was able to complete high school. The support of my community helped me to receive the Avie Bennett Visionary Leadership Scholarship, enabling me to continue to pursue my education. My family and my experiences growing up have truly been the driving force in my journey to this point and my desire to help make change for our people.

I struggled for a long time to find a place of acceptance and belonging. It wasn't until I was in my second year of university here in Toronto where I just happened to be downtown and saw this massive parade. I chatted with a volunteer and I ended up getting connected with Pride Toronto and volunteered with them for over seven years. I was eventually elected to the board of Pride, served as co-chair for 3 years, and as the co-chair of World Pride in 2014.

During that time, I saw the impact of Pride Month. I was able to talk to thousands of people over the course of the festival year-after-year, about the significant impact that Pride had on who they were, and why they came to Toronto from sometimes thousands of kilometers away. This idea that the LGBTQ community has stopped as a movement is very much a lie. The fight is still happening. Many of us live a privileged life here in Canada, but we need to bring voice to not only the lesbian, gay, bisexual community, but also the need for continued progress and to give voice to issues of racism and discrimination towards and within the LGBTQ community and the continued fight for trans and gender non-confirming individuals.

As an undergrad student at York, I took many Indigenous courses. I really sought to expand my understanding of Indigenous Peoples and culture across Canada and internationally. Yet none of the faculty members who ever taught these course were Indigenous themselves. This certainly presented a barrier for me in how I was able to understand and engage with the materials, typically being the only Indigenous voice in the room and being expected to educate my peers on what ‘Indigenous’ life was.

It wasn't until my PhD when I started engaging with critical Indigenous scholarship and having Indigenous mentors, whom pushed me on the path that I am today (shout out to all strong Indigenous female mentors). Affirming the fact that I deserved to be in the academy. We need to see concrete action taking place in terms of supporting Indigenous faculty, hiring new faculty and having representation on campus. That will hopefully help us increase the number of students, especially graduate students, in order to create a lively and robust environment for the entire York community.

As an assistant professor in the School of Health Policy and Management, all of my research is driven by the need to try and improve the everyday lives of Indigenous Peoples. We’re seeing significant increases morbidity and co-morbidity issues including, HIV, TB, and Hepatitis C in Indigenous populations across Canada, with First Nations people living 9 to 10 years shorter than for non-Indigenous people. That's why my main research focuses are on infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance. I really want to shed light and think about how we can address these issues from a holistic perspective, knowing mere Western medical intervention isn't enough to stop the massive health disparities that are taking place."

Sean Hillier

Assistant Professor, School of Health Policy & Management

Special Advisor to the Dean of the Faculty of Health: Indigenous Resurgence

Co-Chair of York University’s Indigenous Council