Nel Wieman | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Nel Wieman

Cornelia “Nel” Wieman, psychiatrist, Indigenous health advocate (born 1964 in Little Grand Rapids First Nation, MB). In 1998, Dr. Nel Wieman became the first female Indigenous psychiatrist in Canada. Wieman has spent over 20 years practising as a clinical psychiatrist. Additionally, she has been involved in research, medical education and with numerous health and medical associations. An Indigenous health advocate, Wieman works to address health issues faced by Indigenous people in Canada. She also works to end racism that Indigenous people and other visible minorities experience in the health care system and medical education.

Early Life

Nel Wieman is Anishinaabe, from Little Grand Rapids First Nation, Manitoba. She is a Survivor of the Sixties Scoop. A government process during the 1960s, the Sixties Scoop involved Indigenous children being taken from their homes and adopted by non-Indigenous families. As a child, Wieman was removed from her family on the Little Grand Rapids reserve (see Reserves in Manitoba). She was placed in foster homes before being adopted by a Dutch family in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Wieman has spoken about how she lost her sense of identity and culture. She felt like she didn’t fit in when growing up in Thunder Bay. It wasn’t until she was in university that she had the opportunity to reconnect with her culture and connect with Indigenous mentors.


At the University of Waterloo, Nel Wieman earned a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology in 1988. In 1991, she earned a Master of Science in Biomechanics. She attended medical school at McMaster University. Wieman originally planned to specialize in neurosurgery. However, she switched to psychiatry after realizing the impact she could have on Indigenous communities as an Indigenous doctor working in mental health. She also enjoyed how psychiatry allowed her to combine Western medicine with storytelling and forming connections with patients.

During her residency at McMaster, Wieman was elected president of the Residents’ Association at McMaster University. She also served as chair of the Native Mental Health Section for the Canadian Psychiatric Association. When she completed her residency in 1998, Wieman became the first female Indigenous psychiatrist in Canada.

Medical Career

Nel Wieman worked with Six Nations of the Grand River for eight years, helping found a mental health services clinic and establish emergency psychiatric services. In 2004, she began working at the University of Toronto as an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Additionally, she was the co-director for the Indigenous Health Research Development Program. At that time, she also worked on McGill University’s Network for Aboriginal Mental Health Research.

After leaving the University of Toronto, Wieman worked as a psychiatrist in a private practice and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). In 2016, she became founding director and faculty advisor with McMaster University’s Indigenous Students Health Sciences Office. In this role, she helped students develop an Indigenous health elective for medical students. That year also marked the beginning of her six-year term as president of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada.

Wieman moved to British Columbia in 2018 to work with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). The FNHA is a provincial authority that provides health care to First Nations in British Columbia. Established in 2013, the FNHA is the first organization of its kind in Canada. In January 2023, Wieman was appointed as the acting chief medical officer of the FNHA.

Wieman has also served as a member and on the boards of various organizations, including Indspire, Pacific Blue Cross, Health Canada’s Research Ethics Board, the National Consortium for Indigenous Medical Education and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Governing Council.

Indigenous Health Advocacy

Nel Wieman was inspired to become an Indigenous health advocate after receiving the National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now Indspire) for medicine in 1998. She recalled: “I had to be a voice for people who had no voice, especially in the health care system.”

One of the issues that Wieman advocates for is addressing suicide amongst Indigenous youth (see Suicide among Indigenous Peoples in Canada). As a member of the national Advisory Group on Suicide Prevention, Wieman developed a framework to address suicide among First Nations youth. Her work has also focused on the opioid crisis, which disproportionately affects Indigenous people in Canada.

Part of Wieman’s health advocacy is also addressing the racism that Indigenous people and other visible minorities face when accessing health care and medical education. Wieman has spoken about the racism she endured in medical school and throughout her career: “I was treated in a racist manner by my fellow medical students, my clinical preceptors and administrative types in the medical education system. I wanted to try to speak out against this because it’s not right and because I want to try to make things easier for the generations who come after me.”

She advocates for a community-focused approach to help decolonize Canada’s health care system and make it more accessible for marginalized groups. In her role with the FNHA, Wieman co-chaired the technical committee that developed the Cultural Safety and Humility Standard (CSHS). The CSHS is a tool that outlines guidelines and criteria to end the racism that Indigenous people face in British Columbia’s health care system. It is the first of its kind in Canada.

Wieman has spoken publicly about these issues in the media, in presentations both nationally and internationally and to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.