By Blake Sittler, Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan
[Catholic Saskatoon News editor’s note: This article is reprinted from the CHAS Communique November Newsletter]
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released their report back in 2015, many of their “Calls To Action” were grouped under categories such as education, child welfare, language and culture and justice. There was also a short section calling. directly on those involved in the field of health.
The first calls in the health section are to the various levels of government to “acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools” and to “identify and close the gaps in health outcomes.”
In a 2008 paper, Dr. Mark Lemstra and Dr. Cory Neudorf note that “it is not difficult to find a government agency in Canada reporting that Aboriginal cultural status is associated with poor health.” They cite the Health Canada website that reports “First Nation peoples are more likely to experience poor health outcomes in essentially every indicator possible.”
They also point out that it is not their genetic code or culture that leads to poor health but their economic status—a status that is largely shaped by systemically unequal access to education, health and work.
This insight leads to the next calls for a sustained effort to increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the health-care field and to work harder to ensure high retention rates.
Some sites have made modest and important efforts. St. Paul’s Hospital incorporates a Cree Honour Song into their morning reflections and is actively developing more initiatives.
Talia Pfefferle is the Director of First Nations and Metis Relations with First Nations and Metis Health. She says that a majority of the work of their young office — it was only formed in 2015 — is directly shaped by the Calls To Action that were offered by the TRC.
“Our main accountability is to promote and implement the calls to action in order to create culturally responsive healthcare.”
“The biggest thing is education,” Pfefferle says. “Educate yourself.”
“You have to be willing and open. The health discrepancies don’t come from our race but from practices and policies implemented by governments in the past.”
The office of First Nations and Metis Health offers workshops, resources and an online forum called “Cultural Conversations” where staff of the SHA can attend monthly to learn about different issues and network.
On March 4, 2019 the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) formalized its commitment to the Calls to Action when they signed an agreement that will serve as a framework for the SHA to move forward reconciliation with First Nations and Métis Peoples.
The agreement commits, among other things, to foster respectful relations with all First Nations and Métis people, acknowledges the pain, loss, and dislocation caused by the residential school system, and commits to being a culturally responsive organization by addressing systemic barriers. It states the importance of making efforts to close the gap in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Finally, it commits to increasing the cultural responsiveness and cultural safety training opportunities for all SHA employees and to increasing the number of First Nations and Métis persons in their employ.
For more information about the office and the resources that they make available in the province, or if you are staff and would like information about joining one of the weekly Cultural Conversations, go to: www.saskatoonhealthregion.ca/locations_services/Services/fnmh