Fernando Polanco

Fernando Polanco grew up in Northwestern BC (Tsimshian First Nations) and is a Guatemalan refugee who immigrated to Canada with his immediate family in the late 1980’s.
Fernando completed his B.Sc at Vancouver Island University with a focus in microbiology/biochemistry. As a M.Sc student at the University of Victoria, under the supervision of Dr. Laura Arbour and Dr. Jeff Reading, his research centred around type 2 diabetes and the KCNQ1 mutation among a population of Gitxsan First Nations members in Northern BC. He is a research associate for the University of Victoria’s Community Genetics Research Program. Fernando has worked as a health policy analyst for the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres specific to Indigenous youth mental health. He has worked with AIDS Vancouver Island delivering harm reduction services in Victoria B.C.’s downtown core. Fernando has also worked with PHSA San’yas Indigenous Cultural Competency training; the Northern Health Authority to establish further reaching Suboxone/harm reduction services to remote communities; and with the Division of Family Practice to help improve family practice in the South Simmilkameen area of BC.
Fernando is now a second year MD student at St. George’s University School of Medicine on a Global Medicine Scholarship. Fernando Polanco is connecting with I-HEART Centre to develop opportunities for mentorship that builds on his background, experience and training that is now combining medicine, public health, genetics, community engagement and service to Indigenous people in Canada and abroad.

Alex Kent

Alex is a fifth-generation settler of British and Dutch ancestry, born and raised on Sts’ailes and Stó:lō territories in BC’s Fraser Valley. Alex completed her BA in Health and Community Services and Master of Public Health— both with an area of focus in Indigenous Health— at the University of Victoria. She is starting her PhD in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University in September 2017, under the supervision of Dr. Jeff Reading. Her research interests include: First Nations health governance; Indigenous health equity; health and education systems; social, structural and systemic determinants of health; as well as decolonizing research. For her doctoral research, Alex will look into the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations in schools of public health/ health sciences to support the training and education of public health practitioners.


Krista Stelkia

Krista Stelkia is a member of the Sylix Nation from the Osoyoos Indian Band in the interior of British Columbia and has strong family connections to First Nations living in the Yukon Territory. As an Indigenous PhD student in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University working with Dr. Jeff Reading and the Research Advisor at the First Nations Health Authority, Krista is passionate about participatory based research that is community driven and nation based.  Her doctoral research aims to explore how experiences of racial discrimination impact health, chronic disease management and illness trajectory for First Nations populations in Canada. In addition, Krista’s main research interests include access barriers to healthcare, heart health, management of chronic illness, trauma-informed emergency care, social determinants of health and culturally competent healthcare system transformation


Chenoa Cassidy-Matthews

Chenoa is an Oji-Cree member of Sachigo Lake First Nation in Northwestern Ontario, and grew up in Kemptville, ON south of Ottawa. Most her family is split between Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay, Sachigo Lake and Big Trout Lake First Nations. Chenoa’s strong ancestral ties to her Oji-Cree heritage and large family in Northwestern Ontario drive her passion for improved health outcomes for Indigenous populations.

Chenoa comes from a strong health sciences background with an Honours degree from the University of Ottawa, and is finishing her first year of a Master of Public Health at Simon Fraser University. Her interest in pursuing graduate level studies lies in the potential to explore Indigenous health from a global health perspective. Chenoa’s first step into the global Indigenous health landscape will be her MPH practicum at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) with the Wardliparingga Aboriginal Research Unit creating a heart health profile for South Australian Aboriginal communities. This opportunity combines many academic fields of interest for Chenoa, including global Indigenous health, epidemiological research, and cardiovascular health.