Canada's only First Nations pharmacy professor leaving University of Saskatchewan over racism concerns

Canada's only First Nations pharmacy professor is leaving the University of Saskatchewan, the latest in a string of resignations by Indigenous faculty.

U of S provost says school is working hard to support Indigenous faculty and staff

A man wearing a suit smiles for the camera towards the right frame.
Jaris Swidrovich, a member of Yellow Quill First Nation, Sask., is Canada's only First Nations professor of pharmacy. (Submitted by Jaris Swidrovich)

Canada's only First Nations pharmacy professor is leaving the University of Saskatchewan, the latest in a string of resignations by Indigenous faculty.

"I'm incredibly sad, disappointed. I feel like there's a big hole," said Jaris Swidrovich, a member of the Yellow Quill First Nation in central Saskatchewan.

Swidrovich said he faced personal racism during his six years at the U of S, as well as systemic racism that isn't being addressed.

Swidrovich acts as mentor and role model to young Indigenous science students and aspiring pharmacists. He's also working to help Indigenous people overcome COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, which he said is often rooted in decades of broken government promises, medical experimentation and other injustices.

He said pharmacists are among the key the health professionals that can close the huge gap in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. He said it's vital to have more Indigenous perspectives and faces behind the pharmacy counter and at the front of the university lecture halls.

Swidrovich said there are many good people at the U of S and he didn't want to leave, but it became too much to take.

"I just needed to remove myself from that environment because I feel I've lost many parts of myself in those experiences," he said.

His departure comes just months after the U of S Faculty Association (USFA) lamented the exodus of nearly a dozen other Indigenous faculty in recent years.

Some said research from Indigenous perspectives has not been valued. Others said they are given higher workloads or limited chances at promotion.

University of Saskatchewan provost Airini says they're saddened by the resignation of Jaris Swidrovich, Canada's only First Nations pharmacy professor. Airini says the U of S is working hard to address systemic racism and improve the experiences of Indigenous people on campus. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

USFA chair Allison Muri said Swidrovich's resignation is a "huge loss" for the university. She said he tried hard to work with officials and make changes but it didn't work.

"It's very, very disappointing," Muri said. "Somehow this university continues to turn a deaf ear to members' concerns. Actually, it's not that they don't listen, but they don't take it to heart and implement changes."

Muri said Indigenous faculty and staff want to see real changes. That includes consequences for those who are at fault.

U of S provost and vice-president academic Airini, whose own scholarship includes Indigenous education in Canada and her native New Zealand, said she's saddened by the loss of Swidrovich.

She said senior leadership has been meeting with Indigenous staff and faculty over the past year to hear their concerns and develop a plan of action.

She said they're trying to make the university a place "in which Indigenous concepts, methodologies, pedagogies, languages and philosophies are respectfully woven into the tapestry of learning, research, scholarship, creativity, and community engagement."

"We remain committed and ready to learn and continue to take action."

Swidrovich said he doesn't have another job lined up, but he'll stay in Saskatoon to run for the NDP in the next federal election.