Module 4

Remembering that this web journey was intended to investigate Aboriginal involvement with medical education, and remembering that my roots lie in the veterinary field, a last effort will be made to find reference to Aboriginal participation in veterinary medicine, so far, pretty rare.  Solitary veterinary references make a thin gruel compared to the chunky stew of public health and medical career support. 


The University of Calgary Veterinary College participated in a recent workshop outlining principles for conducting research in First Nations communities.  In terms reminiscent of Linda Smith (1999), the workshop reviewed principles based on ownership, control, access, and possession (OCAP) for research involving First Nations. Interestingly, these OCAP principles had already been discussed with and adopted by Aboriginal leaders in Canada in 1997.  Every funding application for research in First Nations communities needed approval according to the following stipulations: that Aboriginal communities “control what research data is collected in their communities, how the data is collected, how the information is used, and who has access to it.” Unfortunately, the graduate veterinary students already conducting caribou disease research confessed that they had not applied OCAP principles in their projects and were, in fact, unsure how to proceed given their circumstances with hunters in far flung Inuit communities. However, the workshop introduced the veterinary graduate students to the pre-existing protocols at least and hopefully their results will reflect the changes.


R.G. Herbert, D.V.M. (2005) respectfully submitted a First Nation veterinary infrastructure program for the Anishinaabe Nation November 23, 2005 as part of an ongoing effort to control dog populations on reserves. He suggested permanent solutions will only come from within reserve community settings with guidance from First Nations Elders.  He stated that non-native dog management infrastructure can only go so far without addressing traditional law, issues, and choices.  Herbert provided historical context for the cultural difference in dealing with this issue. Elder teachings that “successfully guide communities with wildlife issues”, he wrote, are generally ineffective with “European-descended dogs literally man-made for very specific European roles” which is why, for many First Nations, dog overpopulation remains a “man-made (settler) problem.”

Veterinary services are considered a fundamental community infrastructure in the developed world but not to Northern Ontario’s First Nations communities, according to Herbert. He created his program for the Christian Aboriginal Infrastructure Developments (CAID), a not-for-profit Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) based in Whitehorse, Yukon ( The CAID wants to reconcile Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal rights and rebuild what was destroyed through a process of meaningful consultation. Healthier communities are one of their goals.


     One First Nation community accessing help with pet overpopulation is highlighted in this CTV news report.  When invited, the Alberta Task Force will work in remote First Nation communities.  The village of Sitsitka had more than 400 animals attended by both veterinarians and veterinary technicians over one weekend.  Admittedly, this CTV report is a light story but it does highlight the logistics necessary to organize such an event. The work is fast paced under less than ideal conditions, both mentally and physically challenging but also important to tackle because larger, free roaming dogs living in First Nations communities can pose a risk to community members or livestock.

     Veterinary technicians are also known as Animal Health Technologists (AHTs), the equivalent of nurses. Details for AHTs wishing to volunteer for such weekends can be found at the Alberta Task force web page – AHTs are encouraged to engage with community members by answering their questions, inviting their participation, and explaining what an AHTs role is. AHTs are also advised to respect the community by driving safely through the reserve because the community had invited them “to assist them with their animals.” By being present, AHTs can learn more about Aboriginal philosophies, too.


     Personally knowing several of the veterinarians involved with Vets Without Borders, the international association of veterinarians founded in 2005, gives me the assurance that the organization is genuinely working towards improving communities.  Since most of work is done in areas of deep poverty, it unfortunately means most of their work is done in Aboriginal neighbourhoods too, in similar conditions worldwide. An article from the Provincial newspaper explains the connection between healthier animals and healthier communities in this way: ” One of the tenets of Veterinarians Without Borders is that humanitarian work doesn’t always have to focus exclusively on humans. In fact,  in  many developing countries the welfare of animals and people are so interdependent that improving the health of their livestock or companion aninmals can have a dramatic effect on entire communities.

     In Canada, there are two projects that seem less about community health and more about dog sled teams – the Sahtu settlement in the NWT on the south shores of the Great Slave Lake and Kuujjuak, Nunavit, on shores of Koksoak River which feeds into Ungava Bay, west of northern Labrador.  Veterinarians fly in to provide veterinary services for two weeks out of every year. 


     The veterinarian featured in this Chilean YouTube story is a good friend, as dynamic as she appears. I find the cultural differences between Canada and Chile very interesting. Blogs associated with her program show a reciprocal exchange of science. Veterinarians from South America come to the Atlantic Veterinary College in PEI, Canada, to conduct their research while third year Canadian veterinary students volunteer in her research project to satisfy the aboriginal component of their program; their stories are a nice touch.



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