This past week has been a remarkable one. I believe I have grown in my understanding of the responsibilities of the CoM with regards to Aboriginal communities.
On Wednesday and Thursday, I had the good fortune of participating in Building Reconciliation: Universities Answering the TRC’s Calls to Action. Our chancellor Blaine Favel and our new president Peter Stoicheff demonstrated great leadership in initiating this important national forum at the University of Saskatchewan. Representatives from more than 50 universities in Canada—including 14 presidents—were here to learn, exchange ideas and set collective goals for responding to the recommendations of the TRC. There were also Aboriginal student leaders, faculty and staff from the University of Saskatchewan who contributed valuable local knowledge to the TRC conversations.
In fact, three of those recommendations are specifically directed at medical schools.
- We call upon those who can effect change within the Canadian health-care system to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients in collaboration with Aboriginal healers and Elders where requested by Aboriginal patients.
- We call upon all levels of government to:
- Increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the health-care field.
- Ensure the retention of Aboriginal health-care providers in Aboriginal communities.
- Provide cultural competency training for all health- care professionals.
- We call upon medical and nursing schools in Canada to require all students to take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, and Indigenous teachings and practices. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
Saturday night I attended the meeting of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada (IPAC) and brought greetings on behalf of the CoM. The president of IPAC is Dr. Alika Lafontaine, an alumnus of the CoM and anesthetist in Edmonton. I also had the pleasure of listening to the keynote speech by Dr. James Makosis, a family doctor from Alberta who also has a Master’s degree in Public Health. Dr. Makosis spoke eloquently about issues of reconciliation, aboriginal history and aboriginal health.
I learned many things from Aboriginal and university leaders this week. In the summation on Thursday at noon, a panel of university presidents and an active audience developed some great take-home messages. Dr. Ralph Nilson of Vancouver Island University emphasized the importance of seeing each other as equals and learning to respect different ways of knowing. Dr. William Robins of University of Victoria at University of Toronto said that he learned: stories matter, naming the problem matters, and relationships matter. An Aboriginal leader, Leroy Little Bear, stated that presidents can help change the conversation, and Dr. Vianne Timmons of University Regina extended that responsibility to all leaders at universities.
Peter Stoicheff emphasized again if not here, where and if not now, when? He also stressed that we all should feel a sense of urgency and impatience but should set a tone of hope and enthusiasm. In terms of our obligation to do research that benefits Aboriginal communities, he reiterated the principal that Aboriginal people stress: nothing about us, without us.
Aboriginal leaders included our students, Chancellor Blaine Favel, Chief Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (and from Saskatchewan) and Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Justice Sinclair had, for me, the most important insight for the College of Medicine: education is the key to reconciliation. Justice Sinclair also said: “By including teaching around residential schools in Canadian curriculum, we are not only opening the door to having Aboriginal people become part of the circle, we are also opening the eyes of Canadians to the fact that they have been educated in the public schools about Aboriginals historically, and even today, in (a way) that is simply wrong and doesn’t contain accurate information.”
With 63 self-identified Aboriginal graduates and 31 Aboriginal students here at the College of Medicine, it could be easy to sit back and say we’re doing pretty good. I came away from this week learning we have so much more to do. Demographic projections for Saskatchewan now show the population is more than 15 per cent Aboriginal people and suggest that by 2030 this number will be more than 25 per cent. Our current enrolment target of 10 seats for Aboriginal students is inadequate.
I ask what our collective responsibility is in ensuring Aboriginal communities, families, and students feel comfortable to bring their cultures and traditions into our University and College of Medicine environment? How do we continue to work with Aboriginal students so they feel they don’t have to hide their identity and ways of being in order to fit into the “culture of Medicine”?
While visiting Île-à-la-Crosse this summer, I saw the abandoned building that formally housed sequentially both the residential school and the drug and alcohol treatment facility. I’m sure we fail to teach all of our students the health legacies of colonization, residential schools and current inequities faced by our Aboriginal people and communities.
Yes, we have much work still to do but to paraphrase President Stoicheff: what medical school in Canada is better poised to lead in responding to the TRC recommendations 20, 21 and 22? And if so, why not now?
As always I look for your feedback, welcome your comments on the blog and invite face-to-face conversations. I’m happy to meet anyone anytime on this or any other issue of importance to you. My door is always open…