Sabastian Koprich (Peter Gzowski College), an accomplished Métis student who recently completed his biology undergraduate degree with honours, has completed a research project examining the cardiovascular health of Métis populations.
Driven by personal connection and a strong comprehension of the historical legacy and long-lasting effects of colonization on Indigenous peoples, including Métis communities, Sabastian's research fills a significant void in epidemiological research and sheds light on the disproportionate burden of cardiovascular disease experienced by the Métis community between 2012 and 2020.
“Colonization is an ongoing process that continues to affect Indigenous health,” Sabastian explained, while recounting his family’s experience. “My grandmother heard her father speak what was referred to as a broken French. She didn't know at the time that it was Michif, she just remembers that she couldn't talk about the Métis. Separation from language is supported in the literature to be associated with greater health concerns. There’s also the assimilation to Western diets, which causes obesity and leads to hypertension, which then leads to congestive heart failure. When we're told not to speak our language, told to forget about our culture, and that we're not indigenous—that we're just some half-breed French. That creates a fear of accessing health care services and perpetuates health care inequalities that you see across the population.”
By providing insights on otherwise ignored data and examining the extensive impact of colonization, his work is a crucial step in tackling systemic disparities and deepening our understanding of more inclusive and culturally aware healthcare approaches for Indigenous communities.
How personal history led to empowerment
In response to the fear of residential schools, anti-Indigenous racism, and the risk of having their children taken away, Sabastian’s family changed their last name to sound more French than Métis. He only learned that he was Métis when he was fifteen and his aunt helped him to understand his Indigenous history. This revelation initiated a significant transition for Sabastian.
“Trent was a big part of that change because I had access to people who would support me and support my Indigenous learning. The connections I've made at Trent have made me truly feel confident to go and speak and say I'm Indigenous, I'm Métis, and I'm proud to be. And I'm proud to do this research.”
In the process of learning about his culture, he began working with the Métis Nation of Ontario. That experience led him to connect with Sarah Edwards, a researcher at the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES). They came to an agreement that had Sabastian running a province-wide study on Métis citizens in Ontario, in collaboration with the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO). This partnership allowed Sabastian to access data representative of the Métis population and provided an exciting opportunity for him to promote data sovereignty.
Data sovereignty relates to accurately representing and respecting the unique identities and cultures of the populations being studied. Indigenous populations, including the Métis, have often been overlooked and grouped together in research, which fails to acknowledge their distinct cultural differences and environmental factors that can influence health outcomes.
Findings are a call for intervention
Through his analysis of the ICES data, Sabastian made significant findings. Comparing data to a previous study conducted in 2012, he observed a notable rise in the burden of disease among the Métis population in Ontario.
Specifically, cases of hypertension increased by approximately 9%—with the at-risk cohort (65+) seeing an increase of 107%—and incidents of congestive heart failure doubled during the period between 2012 and 2020. Notably, men showed a higher incidence of both congestive heart failure and hypertension, highlighting the need for targeted interventions based on demographic factors.
Sabastian asserts that without addressing disparities and promoting culturally appropriate healthcare, the burden of cardiovascular disease among Métis communities is likely to continue increasing.
Continuing his academic journey, Sabastian will be attending the University of Toronto for a master’s in public health with a specialization in Indigenous health. He aims to work closely with the Métis Nation of Ontario to address healthcare gaps and provide interventions tailored to the needs of Métis citizens.
His research serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing impact of colonization and the urgent need to prioritize Indigenous health and well-being. By bridging research gaps and amplifying the voices and experiences of Métis communities, Sabastian is contributing to a more equitable healthcare system for all.