Brett Hildebrandt, graduated during USask Spring Convocation with a Bachelor of Arts and Science Honours degree on June 4. (Photo: Nicole Denbow)
Brett Hildebrandt, graduated during USask Spring Convocation with a Bachelor of Arts and Science Honours degree on June 4. (Photo: Nicole Denbow)

USask arts student champions compassion, reconciliation

Brett Hildebrandt’s research drives him to foster understanding and healing.

By John Shelling and Elisabeth Bauman

Hildebrandt, who is a citizen of the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan (Saskatoon Métis Local 126), graduated during University of Saskatchewan (USask) Spring Convocation with a Bachelor of Arts and Science Honours degree on June 4. His research centered on mental health interventions and he has now been accepted into the College of Medicine to begin classes in August.

In March, Hildebrandt received an award for his resiliency at this year’s USask Indigenous Student Achievement Awards (ISAA). Indigenous students from across the university were honoured at a ceremony to recognize their academic achievement, community engagement, leadership, research endeavours, or resiliency. The ISAA is part of Indigenous Achievement Week (IAW), which celebrates the successes and contributions of Métis, First Nations and Inuit students, staff and faculty at USask.

We asked Hildebrandt a few questions about his time at USask and what motivates him.

Is there someone in your life who inspired you to get where you are today? 

My journey to where I am today has been profoundly influenced by my family, particularly my parents and grandparents. Their unwavering support and the lessons they’ve taught me about the value of hard work and the pursuit of passions have been instrumental. They demonstrated through their actions and guidance how perseverance and dedication can lead to fulfilling one's dreams. This upbringing not only inspired me but also instilled a strong sense of responsibility to contribute positively to my community. Their example showed me that achieving one’s goals is possible with determination and that one can maintain integrity and compassion along the way. Their stories of resilience, especially within our Métis community, have imbued me with a sense of purpose and commitment to my heritage and the broader cause of reconciliation and health care improvement.

Brett Hildebrandt, graduated during USask Spring Convocation with a Bachelor of Arts and Science Honours degree on June 4. (Photo: Nicole Denbow)
Brett Hildebrandt. (Photo: Submitted)

What are your goals for the future? 

My immediate goal was to gain admission to medical school at the University of Saskatchewan. This step is crucial for me as it aligns with my long-term aspiration to become a physician who embodies compassion and advocacy, especially in bridging the health care gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Beyond the professional aspirations, I envision a future where I can maintain a harmonious balance between my career and personal life. I believe in the importance of nurturing relationships with friends and family, as these bonds are foundational to one’s well-being and resilience. Achieving this balance is a testament to the holistic approach I wish to bring into my practice as a physician, ensuring that I live by the principles of care, community, and personal growth that I advocate for.

If you were to give a first-year undergraduate student advice about attending post-secondary school, what would you tell them?

The transition to university life is a significant milestone that often comes with its set of challenges and overwhelming moments. It’s vital to acknowledge that feeling overwhelmed is a natural part of adapting to this new phase of life. I would advise first-year students to give themselves grace during this transition period. Emphasizing the importance of grades should not overshadow the equally crucial process of personal discovery and growth. Engaging in various clubs and activities on campus can offer a sense of community and belonging, providing a supportive environment for exploration and development. These experiences are invaluable, as they allow you to grow as an individual, discover new interests, and build connections that can last a lifetime. Remember, the journey through university is not just about academic achievement but also about becoming a well-rounded individual equipped to contribute meaningfully to your community.

You are involved in a lot, you are a student, a tutor, and a teaching assistant; how do you balance everything?

Balancing the demands of being a student, a peer mentor in Arts and Science, and managing part-time work requires a deliberate and organized approach. For me, the key has been meticulously planning my days and weeks, ensuring that I allocate time efficiently across my various commitments. This method involves not just keeping track of academic deadlines but also setting aside time for club activities, mentoring sessions, and personal well-being. Such planning allows me to remain engaged and fulfil my responsibilities without compromising on the quality of my work or my health. It’s a delicate balance that demands constant adjustment and prioritization, reflecting a broader life skill that I believe is essential for anyone looking to manage multiple roles effectively.

You are receiving an award for resiliency; what does that word mean to you?  

Being recognized with an award for resilience is an immense honour that holds personal significance. To me, resilience is the capacity to face adversities, learn from them, and emerge stronger and more determined. It embodies the journey of overcoming personal and academic challenges through perseverance and a positive outlook. This award symbolizes the recognition of the hard work, determination, and hope that have characterized my path so far. It acknowledges the struggles and the strength it takes to push beyond them, striving for a better future not just for oneself but also for the community. Resilience, in this context, is a testament to the collective endurance and spirit of those who have faced and overcome obstacles in the pursuit of their goals.

Can you tell me what it means to you to be a compassionate physician championing reconciliation?

To me, aspiring to be a compassionate physician in the context of reconciliation means acknowledging and understanding the historical and ongoing injustices faced by Indigenous communities. It involves integrating this awareness into my medical practice to foster an environment of trust, respect, and mutual learning. Compassion and reconciliation are intrinsically linked, as healing cannot occur without a genuine understanding and acknowledgment of past harms. My commitment to compassionate reconciliation involves advocating for and implementing health care practices that respect Indigenous knowledge and traditions, aiming to repair and strengthen the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the broader medical community. It’s about moving forward with concrete actions that address disparities and work towards equitable healthcare for all. 

What inspires your desire to improve mental health, understanding and healing in your communities? 

My motivation to advocate for mental health improvements within my community stems from personal and familial experiences with mental illness. These experiences have not only shaped my understanding of the complexities surrounding mental health but have also fueled my passion for psychology and mental well-being. Witnessing firsthand the challenges and the impact of mental health issues, coupled with the resilience and strength of those affected, drives my commitment to this cause. The path to improving mental health support involves fostering open dialogues that can break down stigma and build understanding. It’s about ensuring that everyone, especially the most vulnerable, has access to the resources and support they need. My aspiration is to contribute to a future where mental health is prioritized, and comprehensive support systems are in place for all who need them.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Receiving this award is not just a personal honour but a moment of pride that reflects the University of Saskatchewan’s commitment to celebrating and supporting Indigenous achievements. I am grateful for this recognition and for the opportunity to highlight the importance of Indigenous perspectives and contributions within academia and beyond. It’s a testament to the progress being made towards a more inclusive and equitable educational environment. My hope is that my journey can inspire others to pursue their passions, advocate for meaningful change, and contribute to a world that values diversity, equity, and reconciliation.

Together, we will work towards Truth and Reconciliation. We invite you to join by supporting Indigenous achievement at USask.