Canada’s Governor General (GG), the Right Honorable David Johnston and his wife, Dr. Sharon Johnston, in partnership with the National Expert Commission of the Canadian Nurses Association, hosted an outstanding roundtable in March: Taking Action to Improve the Health and Healing of First Nations, Inuit and Métis People, Families and Communities. This event took place at Rideau Hall under the watchful eyes and leadership of Her Excellency Dr. Sharon Johnston, with great participation from the Governor General, who opened and closed the day. Dr. Johnston’s speech can be found here.
The day had three themes: families and children; social, economic and environmental determinants of health; and chronic disease. Participants included scientists and leaders in these fields, health care leaders, members of the National Expert Commission and CNA Board members — very strong individuals who came together as a community for the day. It has been a long time since I felt a day go by so quickly and so productively. The hospitality of the GG’s team, the setting, and the participants made the day very powerful. It was clear that each one of us was there to contribute to the agenda and conversation to the best of our abilities. I loved the fact that the majority of the participants were from the First Nations, aboriginal, Métis and Inuit.
It was clear from the opening, through to the prayer and smudging ceremony, that this was a day of true respect, listening and discussion. I have to say it was a very meaningful day for me. When I engage with any group, I make an effort to ground myself in their reality. I learned this practice through many years of international work. The richness of knowledge and the humility that comes from learning about the beauty of other cultures always leaves me humbled and gives me personal growth. This day was no different. As I have said in previous blogs, we are all products of our origins, culture, upbringing and more. Understanding a community’s context, experiences and perspectives helps to understand their ways and how you can work with them.
One particular lesson was very profound for me. During our conversations in the chronic disease group, it became clear that the meaning of an illness is not the same for different groups and cultures. Although diabetes is the same clinical disease for everyone, its meaning and how to manage it will be very different if you are aboriginal or from another ethnic group[LC1] , Canada is blessed with lots of different immigrant groups that come from different cultures and customs and believes. Working with other communities requires a very deep understanding of their culture and norms. It is safe to say that we, as health care professionals, have the clinical toolbox. But we must understand that without the cultural context, we shouldn’t assume we can make a meaningful impact.
We need to continue to encourage young men and women in aboriginal communities to become health care professionals since they will have both the clinical and the cultural toolbox – an ideal combination.
[LC1]Can you explain a little more or give an example.