July 26, 2018
My family and I moved from England to Regina when I was nine. I was excited for the adventure but unsure about where we were heading. To help me prepare for a new country, I received a Canadian atlas, storybooks and some Canadian themed souvenirs. My grandparents also gave me the Little House on the Prairie series. I loved the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family homesteading on the American prairie.
Soon after arriving in Regina, my family and I started visiting local museums, curious to learn more about our new home. My nine-year-old self was fascinated by a diorama of a First Nations family at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, as it reminded me of some of the stories in the Little House on the Prairie. Canadian history seemed much more exciting than what we had studied in England; brave explorers like Cabot, Cartier and Champlain discovering unclaimed lands, the North West Rebellion and the Hudson Bay Company all stuck in my head.
It took me years to discover how incomplete and inadequate my education had been. I have barely any recollection of discussing Canada’s colonial policy of residential schools, and the intergenerational legacy that resulted, until I was a second-year medical student. An Elder who had survived a residential school sat with our class and shared some of what his childhood had been like.
Later that day, as I was studying for an upcoming exam with several friends, our conversation drifted back to what we had heard from the Elder.
“That can’t be true,” said a classmate. “If it were, we would have heard about it before now.”
I disagreed but couldn’t make sense of why I didn’t know more.
North America has a history of creating social, economic, cultural and political inequities that have resulted in health disparities for Indigenous Canadians. Further, as uncomfortable as this might be to admit, we each bring our own assumptions and biases with us wherever we go. These personal biases contribute to the different experiences, and even outcomes, of the patients we serve.
We have a responsibility to ensure that our health system is a safe place of healing where all who seek care are respected and valued.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action give all of us clear direction for the work ahead. As part of my personal response to the Calls to Action, I recently completed
The Role of Practitioners in Indigenous Wellness, a course offered by the Division of Continuing Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine. This locally developed online course combines assigned readings with a series of videos delivered by local First Nations knowledge keepers, Elders, faculty and clinicians. Most of my learning occurred through reflective journaling and structured writing assignments, causing me to learn more about myself and my worldview than I had anticipated. I highly recommend this course to you.
Starting in November 2017, the Indigenous Health Working Group partnered with more than 70 communities to generate 16
recommendations to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) on how to improve health care for First Nations and Métis people. These recommendations will guide our work to improve health outcomes in a culturally safe and responsive manner for all. We are starting our journey as a new provincial health authority on the right path, walking together.
On Friday July 20, 2018, I attended the opening ceremonies of
Back to Batoche along with several other SHA colleagues. This annual cultural festival is a national gathering of five Métis Nation celebrating Métis culture and history. During the opening ceremonies, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) Minister of Health Marg Friesen and SHA Vice President of Integrated Northern Health Andrew McLetchie signed a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of their organizations to work together to achieve better health outcomes for Métis people. Métis Nation-Saskatchewan and the SHA will work together over the years to achieve better health outcomes for Métis people through diverse and targeted initiatives, including health promotion, tracking the determinants of health, and supporting efforts to access funds for new programs, services and research.
I felt like a welcome guest to a family celebration, complete with sitting around a kitchen dinner while accomplished cooks served traditional food, including pickerel, moose, bison and wild rice, all of which had been caught or grown by Métis people. Even the water we drank came from fresh springs near Ȋle-à-la-Crosse! Over lunch, Métis leaders, politicians, RCMP and city police officers sat together, talking about who we are and where we come from, while listening to Métis folk songs.
I drove home from Batoche deep in thought about what I’ve learned since moving to Canada, and who have been my teachers: my patients and their families, my colleagues, my institutions and myself.
My children understand much more of our collective history than I do, because they are learning about Canada’s full history. Thanks to significant advancements in their school curriculum, they know we are all treaty people. But most importantly, they better understand we are all people.
So, I leave you with a big question to ponder: How do we create a better tomorrow for all of us regardless of origin?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and can be reached at
Dr. Susan Shaw
Chief Medical Officer