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

NAD for blog

June 21, 2017

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. 

Aboriginal children aged 14 and under made up 28% of the total Aboriginal population and 7% of all children in Canada. By comparison, non-Aboriginal children aged 14 and younger represented 16.5% of the total non-Aboriginal population.

Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit 

Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011

Based on results of the Aboriginal Peoples Survey, half (52%) the Aboriginal population aged 12 and older in Canada rated their health as excellent or very good in 2012: 51% of First Nations people living off reserve, 55% of Métis, and 48% of Inuit.

Aboriginal Peoples: Fact Sheet for Canada

Statistics Canada


Dr. Sarah Newbery grew up in the territory of the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en peoples in Northern B.C. and lives now in the territory of the Ojibway people of Pic River. She has been a member of the OCFP Board of Directors since November 2008 and served as President in 2015-2016. She has been in comprehensive family practice in Marathon for 20 years and is involved in curriculum development and teaching at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine since its inception. Dr. Newbery also participates in several local, LHIN-based and provincial committees focused on healthcare delivery. In this post, she shares some important insights and helpful resources.

Today is National Aboriginal Day – a day to celebrate the diverse cultures and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. 

For family physicians, it can also be a day to reflect on the opportunity that we have to support indigenous peoples to experience health care that is culturally safe, and to experience greater equity in health care and health outcomes. For me, it is also a day to celebrate all that I have learned from my indigenous patients and indigenous colleagues about health, healing and resilience.

As a profession, we are asked every day to provide excellent care to the whole population that we serve. 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 practising “culturally safe care” for the people we serve.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recognizes the fundamental importance of culturally safe care and recommends that all healthcare providers participate in cultural competency training. There are several resources to support you to provide culturally safe care to your indigenous patients, including: 


The Truth and Reconciliation commission also encourages us to recognize the value of traditional healing practices and “use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients in collaboration with Aboriginal healers and Elders where requested by Aboriginal patients”.  Do we know which of your indigenous patients currently uses traditional medicines and ceremonies in healing? Do we know how we might access a traditional healer if a patient requested collaborative care between us and a traditional healer?

As a country, we have a long way to go to ensure equitable health care and health outcomes for indigenous peoples in Canada. As with so many issues in health care, family physicians have a tremendous opportunity to shape what is possible. This Aboriginal Day is a good opportunity to pause and commit to working to ensure that indigenous people receive culturally safe care and achieve better health through collective advocacy for resources that impact care delivery as well as many of the social determinants of health. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report reminds us that:


  •  “….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.”

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

As family physicians in Ontario, we can support the work of the TRC and take steps to better understand the Indigenous people that we serve wherever we live and work.  We are part of the healing.

Interested in learning more?

Check out these Faces of Health Care - some great pieces highlighting different indigenous perspectives, including:


  • Mae K.: An indigenous nurse practitioner on caring for indigenous students with opioid addiction


  • Diane: On discrimination against indigenous people within the healthcare system and the impact abuse has had on her life


  • David and Lisa: In a discussion of community healing and education

Indigenous, Aboriginal or First Nations .... which term is correct?

Here's a helpful video for getting a better understanding: How to talk about Indigenous people


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