“You have to be comfortable at some point to be humble. To say, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I can learn from you,” said Marilee A. Nowgesic, CEO of the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association (CINA), in a recent webinar. Nowgesic was addressing the need for humility as a practitioner and/or health professional when engaging with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in a care setting.

On Nov. 17, nearly 150 participants from across Canada tuned in to the How can YOU contribute to Reconciliation? Part II of the Engaging with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, communities and organizations webinar.

Presented by Health Standards Organization (HSO), in partnership with the Canadian College of Health Leaders (CCHL), this second webinar looked at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)’s seven health-related Calls to Action (#18-#24). Participating alongside Nowgesic were Kimberly Fairman, Executive Director of the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research (ICHR) and Alyssa Bryan, RN, MScN and Program Manager with HSO’s Standards and Evidence Development team.

Throughout the 90-minute webinar, Nowgesic, Fairman and Bryan created a safe space for attendees to learn about the TRC’s health-related Calls to Action and how to move these forwards in their professional and personal lives. Taking place in the fall, this webinar panel presented aspects of reconciliation alongside the theme of the harvest season, inviting attendees to ‘do the necessary work’ and prepare a pantry with essential items to help get them through the challenging winter months.

Nowgesic noted the action of reconciliation is mainly one for non-Indigenous people to take. “Reconciliation is not for Indigenous people. It’s for our settler partners,” she said. Fairman encouraged attendees to “make the pantry your own,” adding it is the attendee’s responsibility to use the knowledge gained in a way that is positive and respectful. “It’s one thing to have knowledge or practice, but without deep connectivity to the land or to the people, that knowledge can be misused,” she said.

Nowgesic added that at some point in their careers, attendees would work with Indigenous peoples. “Let’s give you the information you need to make sure you’re comfortable in that environment,” she said. “We want to make sure non-Indigenous partners in the health professions are also privileged to become part of the Indigenous content in learning about Indigenous culture, ways of knowing and language.”

Fairman noted during the webinar that Indigenous people often start in “a deficit position” in provider interactions, as they are often seen as being in need of assistance. “We need to start being recognized for the leadership and knowledge we can provide,” she said.

She added that to move forward, health professionals and providers need to focus on building a relationship and trust with Indigenous peoples, organizations and communities. “It’s looking at how do health care providers commit to understanding what the need is and how to enter into a lasting and trusting relationship,” Fairman said. “Reconciliation is something we enter into together. It’s how do we address these needs together.”

Bryan added: “The Indigenous health system cannot be separate from Canada’s health system. These have to work together.”

Addressing the challenges of accessing care
Both Nowgesic and Fairman acknowledged that accessing basic care is a challenge for Indigenous peoples, and this challenge is only exacerbated when people live in remote, northern communities. “Just accessing care is a challenge and it shouldn’t be that way,” Nowgesic said. “Not every community has a health access centre. You might not be able to access a doctor for three to four months.”

Nowgesic added that Indigenous peoples don’t only deal with geographical challenges, but the health system itself – as it was established by previous Canadian government policies – is difficult to navigate. “People don’t understand the hoops we have to jump through to access care,” she said. Fairman added: “The onus is always placed on me to figure out the system.”

The TRC’s Calls to Action were published in 2015 to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of reconciliation in Canada. There are 94 different Calls to Action with seven addressing the state of healthcare for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

In this webinar, the panel addressed health-themed Calls to Action #18 to #24, addressing the meaning of each one and inviting attendees to reflect upon how they can take action to move each one forward in their own way to create positive change in Canada’s health system.

Attendees from Part I of this webinar series demonstrated a strong willingness to learn more from the panelists, which resulted in Part II being extended to 90 minutes. If you haven’t already, you’re invited to learn more and watch the complimentary Part II webinar here.