OPINION | Reconciliation: a path forward for better Indigenous health

Indigenous peoples are highly diverse populations whose health is affected by all the same kinds of determinants as other people in Canada. But in addition, a complex history of colonialism and racism has had a substantial and ongoing impact on the types and rates of injuries and illnesses in these communities as well as access to and experiences with health care. Complicating physical health issues, for too long, we have watched a crisis of mental health issues and suicide rates rise among Indigenous youth. While we have seen some progress recently, much more must be done to address inequities in health, social and services provided to Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

Nurses have a responsibility to respect and value each person’s individual culture, and consider how cultures may impact an individual’s experience of health care. The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) has had a longstanding partnership with the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association (CINA) intended to promote cultural safety as a core value of nursing in Canada. In our 2017 update to the Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses, we’ve included multiple references to the significant impact of history and cultural differences on health outcomes.

Unfortunately, we do not hear enough about the important contributions from Indigenous nurses in Canada. Every day, Indigenous nurses bring an extraordinary understanding of health-care issues, concerns, needs and cultural safety to the care of people across First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. As a first point of contact in many communities, they have a privileged and trusted capacity within Indigenous populations and are extremely resourceful when providing the health care required for their patients. In some cases, they are able to incorporate traditional lessons and healing methods to improve health outcomes.

CINA members have much to offer to health decision makers across the country. Recently, the association recommended one interesting learning solution to the Ontario government – proposing the creation of a mobile health-care simulation laboratory to allow Indigenous nurses from First Nations and rural communities across the province to directly access key educational services. In this model, Indigenous nurses could more readily gain the practical skills that are requirements for accreditation. This recommendation fits really well with CNA’s core values of bringing care closer to home and communities.

CNA is on its own journey to understand the truth of our history, both in our advocacy work and as a corporate citizen. We are engaging a series of activities with our board of directors and staff to improve our ability to engage in meaningful and authentic reconciliation. We encourage everyone – individuals and organizations – to truly engage in understanding our shared history and reflect on ways we can work together to put strategies in place to close gaps and improve Indigenous health outcomes.

Mike Villeneuve is the CEO of the Canadian Nurses Association.

Contributed to the Sixth Estate – The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sixth Estate.

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