The core of the project is building relationships, which in turn will help shift health care policies, says co-investigator Dr. Rita Henderson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Indigenous Health Dialogue Co-Chair at CSM. “I think one of the biggest things that I've learned from Dr. Crowshoe over the years is to envision a policy, not as this really rigid set of frameworks, but as relationships that need to be nurtured.”
Dr. Henderson also emphasizes the opportunities for collaboration. “This funding offers many opportunities to come together for a lot of different reasons: meetings, training and workshops. There will be seed funding for community groups to partner with academic researchers to cook up ideas and start implementing and testing them, and then deciding in what ways they can be improved upon.”
Stakeholder meetings were held with organizations and institutions across the province to establish the network, with participants discussing how health systems, health decisions and researchers could work together to address the social and political contexts driving health inequities for Indigenous populations.
The emerging themes define the network’s operating principles:
- Indigenous Ways of Knowing
These align with the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, which challenge organizations and institutions to begin assertive planning and take actions for the journey toward reconciliation.
The network offers important opportunities to utilize the wisdom that resides within communities. Highlighting the importance of primary health care in connecting to Indigenous knowledge, Blackfoot Elder Leroy Little Bear notes that Indigenous peoples: “have historically experienced socioeconomic disadvantages, social injustices and health inequities that have greatly impacted our well-being.
“Yet our communities have continued to flourish and retain our unique cultural identity in the face of these challenges … [achieved by] drawing on the intrinsic strengths and resilience embedded in cultural values and models by our Elders,” he continues.