Family Medicine Matters Blog

The OCFP Blog discusses current topics and invites members to share their perspectives and ideas, and engage in a dialogue.

The Importance of National Aboriginal Day

June 21, 2016

Today is National Aboriginal Day and I invite you to join me in a few moments of reflection about the importance of this day.

While National Aboriginal Day is intended to celebrate the diverse cultures and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada, it is also an opportunity to reflect on the darker and sad side of our collective national story. In 2015 Canadians received the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This profoundly important body of work shares many of the stories of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report stated “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.” The Commission’s report calls us all to action to recognize what happened and continues to happen to Indigenous peoples, and to come together as a society to heal those past wounds and move forward.

If we are able to, as a society, actively adopt and “live” the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, we will have a huge impact on the health of future generations of Indigenous peoples. As family physicians we have an important and special role to play.

As a profession, we are asked every day to provide excellent care to the whole population that we serve, and when we are doing this most effectively we bring an openness to understanding the context of each patient’s life through the questions we ask and the observations we make.

When we practice medicine, mindful of acknowledging our own biases and values in relation to the impact those biases have on others, we move closer to practicing “culturally safe care” for the people that we serve.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognizes the fundamental importance of culturally safe care and recommends that all health-care providers participate in cultural competency training.

As a first step, I encourage you to look at some good resources, such as the very well done document, developed by the Indigenous Health Working Group of the College of Family Physicians, entitled Systemic Racism, the fully accredited San’yas online cultural competency training program, and the Anishnawbe Health Toronto initiative’s brief and excellent videos.

I also recommend reading the Commission’s recommendations, particularly #18 to #24, which focus on health and several of these relate to health funding and system level change.

The closing words of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s summary are beautiful and powerful.  Some of the excerpts that stood out for me:

  • “…Residential school Survivor and Gwawaenuk Elder Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, speaking as Reconciliation Canada’s ambassador, said, “Reconciliation includes anyone with an open heart and an open mind, who is willing to look to the future in a new way. Let us find a way to belong to this time and place together. Our future, and the well-being of all our children, rests with the kind of relationships we build today.”
  • “…As Canadians, we share a responsibility to look after each other and acknowledge the pain and suffering that our diverse societies have endured—a pain that has been handed down to the next generations. We need to right those wrongs, heal together, and create a new future that honours the unique gifts of our children and grandchildren.”
  • “….How do we do this? Through sharing our personal stories, legends and traditional teachings, we found that we are interconnected through the same mind and spirit. Our traditional teachings speak to acts such as holding one another up, walking together, balance, healing and unity. Our stories show how these teachings can heal their pain and restore dignity. We discovered that in all of our cultural traditions, there are teachings about reconciliation, forgiveness, unity, healing and balance.”
  • “….Reconciliation is going to take hard work. People of all walks of life and at all levels of society will need to be willingly engaged.”
  • “…Reconciliation calls for personal action. People need to get to know each other. They need to learn how to speak to, and about, each other respectfully. They need to learn how to speak knowledgeably about the history of this country. And they need to ensure that their children learn how to do so as well.”

As family physicians in Ontario, let us take steps to better understand the Indigenous peoples that we serve wherever we live and work.  We are part of the healing.

As part of understanding the experience of Indigenous people in the health-care system, we can turn to stories. Faces of Health Care recently shared these three stories about Indigenous peoples and their experiences of and approaches to health care:

  According to Stats Canada, Ontario has the largest population of Aboriginal people in Canada (21.5% of the total Aboriginal population), and only 37% live on reserve in Ontario.


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