Generally I avoid the National Post because I feel it regularly publishes with a conservative bias that doesn’t align with my personal politics. However, I read the following article with interest, as it shares a letter from a physician in Moose Factory, ON, pleading for increased medical resources to his remote, reserve community. While the author of the letter does not identify himself as Native or First Nation, he has dedicated his career to serving as a physician in Canada’s far north (near Hudson’s Bay) and has 30+ years of experience dealing with the problems of distant and undeserved communities.
Again, he makes the plea for additional services (provision of medical officers of health, local health integration network teams, drug and alcohol rehab services) but also for education. The standards of life on his reserve community are below the national standard for building code, water quality, education, health and policing. Just imagine growing up in a place where it’s unsafe to drink the water, where people burn to death in jail because it accidentally catches on fire and there is no officer to unlock your cell. These are the realities all Canadians, including our younger learners, should be exposed to so they can better appreciate the injustices regularly and continually faced by Indigenous Canadians.
One of the ways I’ve been educating myself about the ways in which the Canadian system (both educational and health systems) have mistreated Aboriginal Canadians is by reading. I recently read the CBC article Racism Against Aboriginal People in the Health-Care System Pervasive: Study which discusses a recent research study indicating broad, systemic problems with the ways Indigenous Canadians are treated by our healthcare system. As in almost every document I’ve read about the ways white Canadian’s mistreat Aboriginal Canadians, the solution appears to be education. White healthcare workers need to be better educated as to the reasons why there are an increased number of Aboriginal Canadians using the healthcare system. They need to be educated about the effects of a culture of poverty, of the effects of residential schools, of lower educational provisions for Aboriginal students.
Aboriginal Women & Traditional Healing: An Issue Paper
My previous post shared the Canadian Cancer Society’s thoughts on Traditional Healing and I interpreted from their findings a need for further research on evidence supporting traditional medicine. This next paper calls for the same, asking that in hopes of encouraging use of traditional healing in Aboriginal communities, that researchers focus on evaluating different methods of healing, and share when these methods do work. Furthermore, they ask that researchers look at the use of traditional methods in tandem with Western methods, in the hopes that they will provide relief for conditions, help to improve the position of women (traditionally healers) in Aboriginal society, and help to motivate Canadian physicians to avoid dismissing useful methods.
The Canadian Cancer Society’s Page on First Nations’s Healing
This website offers Cancer patients information on traditional First Nation’s healing, including topics like the ceremonial use of tobacco and smudging. I found it particularly useful because the website goes to great paints to speak respectfully whilst still indicating that the use of traditional healing has not been scientifically studied.
I see this as an opportunity for researchers to examine the use of traditional healing methods that look at the whole human (medicine wheel) for treatment, instead of simply treating the body (chemo), and to examine biomarkers of disease or whole health outcomes (e.g. death rates) for those treated using traditional methods plus evidence-based western medicine. Many traditional healing methods have recently shown themselves successful in clinical trials (e.g. massage therapy & acupuncture), and I suspect that there are likely elements of traditional healing that will hold up to scientific rigor and help to support their use in broader populations.
It’s interesting to see what collaborations between western institutions (like universities) and traditional enterprises can build together. One such collaboration I came across was the New Zealand organization Titoki which is an educational service bringing interested parties information about traditional Maori medicines. Through workshops facilitated by a University employed education officer and a Maori herbalist, participants can learn to understand and use traditional medicines.
I’d certainly be interested in finding ways to integrate workshops like these into the undergraduate medical curriculum and perhaps into pharmacy curriculums, given their significance to some Indigenous groups. Having a knowledge of the utility and spiritual nature of some of these medicines will help physicians respect and understand how and why their patients are using non-Western medicines during treatment.
The Canadian Institutes for Health Research have an institute dedicated to Aboriginal Health. I was interested in this initiative specifically because it is run by a self-identified First Nation member scientist, and focuses on funding and organizing research related to Aboriginal issues. Also important, they emphasize traditional aspects of wellness (a holistic approach supported by the medicine wheel) and are interested in investigating meaningful reasons and interventions to increase Indigenous lifespan in Canada.
I think that dedicated funding and a commitment to funding Indigenous researchers is a first step to encouraging medical students and researchers to pursue their interests in Indigenous medicine.
Affirmative Action is a buzzword in the United States. US Universities and Colleges frequently use applicant demographics to select students for admission, including increasing the percentages of ethnicity diverse students admitted, sometimes with slightly lower scores than other applicants. The intent of such a program is to increase minority representation at institutions of higher learning and to, ideally, decrease negative outcomes experienced more frequently by minority groups, primarily underemployment and poverty.
McGill University’s medical school is an example of such a policy put in place in Canada. I know that at UBC we have created a distributed medical program which puts our students into clerkships in smaller communities across the province in the hopes that they pull put down roots in these more disparate regions and thus help to resolve a doctor shortage. I’d hope that in addition to admitting more Indigenous students that universities are making more efforts to have, for example, Inuit doctors train in Inuit communities with the resources that are available there.
The other aspect I was interested for my final project was Health initiatives. So I have also looked into organizations that provide information about health and wellness.
This organization provides a holistic approach and is focused primarily on healing physical and mental issues from residential schools. They fund a lot of different projects as well as publish documents relating to these concerns.
This organization works to make public health care more inclusive for all indigenous people. They mix together traditional knowledge with scientific processes such as case studies to help improve public health care.
While studying for the research paper, I came across this great Academy for conservation and study of Adivasi culture and language based in the tribal village of Tejgadh, Gujarat in India.
The Adivasi Academy does not follow a single track academic agenda, courses and research programs are created from batch to batch or project to project depending on the needs perceived for conserving tribal identity or promoting development in Adivasi areas. The projects include research on community ethnographies, language tools, healthcare programmes to tackle sickle cell anaemia and tuberculosis (prevalent in those parts) and tribal education.
Traditional Health and Medicine
Having looked into ethnobotany I became interested in traditional health knowledge. This website provides an introduction with some terminology and additional resources.
This is an article about the importance of traditional health practices and their importance for all over well-being.
This report is a bit off topic of traditional medicine, but it sums up pre/post colonization First Nations health and proscribes a plan for improving health services and the overall wellness of First Nations community.