Why he’s a 2019 Top 40 Under 40: He uses the wisdom of elders to improve health services and treatment for Indigenous women and their families.
In an academic world that has the pressures of “publish or perish,” Richard Oster is moving ahead on another, more practical path.
“Success, to me, is not the typical academic measures of success such as manuscripts in high-impact journals, prestige, becoming head of the department,” he says. “If we’ve done right by the communities I work with and they’ve benefited, then I’ve succeeded.”
Technically, his role is to improve the health of pregnant Indigenous women by acting as a liaison between their communities and the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services. But his job is much more than just collecting and analyzing data from Indigenous mothers.
“The best part of my work is the privilege of going to the communities I work with, being accepted with open arms,” he says. “The teachings and experiences out there have enriched my life in ways I never thought possible.”
Oster turns that Indigenous expertise into things like the Elders Mentoring program for parents-to-be, a community-garden for young families, an Elders Wisdom video directed at transferring critical cultural knowledge surrounding pregnancy and parenting to young people and a Pregnancy Pathways program, which provides safe housing to homeless pregnant women in Edmonton’s inner city.
Oster was also given his Cree name two years ago, by the Lightning family that adopted him into the community. The local Maskwacis family gave him a name Wapastim, which means “white horse.”