Dal alum devoted to Indigenous mental health selected for $100K award

Dr. Christopher Mushquash wins Gairdner Award

- April 4, 2023

Dr. Christopher Mushquash. (Provided photo)
Dr. Christopher Mushquash. (Provided photo)

Dal alum Dr. Christopher Mushquash (PhD’11) has been awarded a prestigious Gairdner Award, valued at $100,000, for Indigenous-led mental health and substance use research that leads to culturally and contextually appropriate services for Indigenous people.

Dr. Mushquash is a clinical psychologist, professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Mental Health and Addiction at Lakehead University. He’s also a psychologist at Dilico Anishinabek Family Care; vice president research, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre; and chief scientist at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.

He merges his clinical experience as a psychologist with his community-based participatory approach to research to meet community needs and improve systems and services that make a difference in people’s lives. His innovative work focuses on Indigenous mental health and substance use through evidence-based practices that align with First Nations values. This approach ensures his research and its outcomes are culturally and contextually appropriate for people in First Nations, as well as those in rural and northern communities.

Dr. Patrick McGrath, professor emeritus in Dalhousie’s Department of Psychiatry, was visiting Lakehead University when he first met Dr. Mushquash, who was working there as a research assistant. “I was determined to recruit him to the Clinical Psychology PhD program at Dalhousie. He was bright, thoughtful, articulate and determined to use psychology to allow his people to overcome the effects of colonialism,” says Dr. McGrath.

From 2004 to 2011, Dr. Mushquash was a PhD student in clinical psychology in Dal’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience under the supervision of Dr. Sherry Stewart. For his doctoral dissertation, he conducted collaborative research with Indigenous communities, adapting an evidence-based alcohol prevention and early intervention program that had been developed by Dr. Stewart’s team to make it culturally appropriate for Indigenous youth. He has continued this work at Lakehead University.

“His research program embodies the ‘two-eyed seeing’ approach. This ensures that the intervention approaches he studies are evidence-informed (Western knowledge) while using a participatory approach where he partners with Indigenous communities and agencies to incorporate Indigenous ways-of-knowing to ensure these interventions are culturally appropriate and culturally safe,” says Dr. Stewart. “His research is truly making a difference for the lives of Canadian Indigenous people and his work is simultaneously assisting with reconciliation efforts.”

The impact

Dr. Mushquash’s team conducted the first Canadian study of adverse childhood experiences in First Nations adults seeking residential treatment for substance use difficulties. The outcomes enhanced the understanding of the nature of developmental and intergenerational trauma in First Nations people and improved clinical care for those with substance use difficulties. His research has also upended conventional understandings of mental health in Indigenous families and established best practices for engaging Indigenous people in research.

Furthermore, his research has directly influenced federal funding policy in remote First Nations communities. As a leader in his field, Dr. Mushquash has advanced mental health across Canada, garnering various awards, honours and appointments in recognition of his research and clinical expertise. His devotion to the profession and Indigenous mental health can be seen in the impact of his work in changing Canadian policy, educating professionals working with First Nations people, and, more importantly, bettering the quality of life and care of many Indigenous youth and communities.

“He [Dr. Mushquash] could have landed a faculty job anywhere. He chose to return to Lakehead. Since that time, he has lived up to his early promise and made major contributions to research and policy to integrate the science of clinical psychology with Aboriginal wisdom,” says Dr. McGrath. “He has made and will continue to make a difference.”

Five Gairdner prizes are awarded annually to outstanding biomedical scientists who have made original contributions resulting in an increased understanding of human biology and disease. The mission of the Gairdner Foundation is to celebrate, inform and inspire scientific excellence around the globe. The Canada Gairdner Awards celebrate the world’s best biomedical and global health researchers through annual prestigious awards.

Canada’s Health Minister, The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, says, “Dr. Mushquash’s research on Indigenous-led mental health and substance use will be transformative in improving the quality of life of so many here in Canada and around the world.”

With files from www.gairdner.org/winner/christopher-mushquash.


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