How do you benefit from colonialism?
Since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report in 2015, many teams and departments within public health organizations have been on a journey to grapple with this and similar questions. I hear related queries asked at conferences, stated during planning exercises and discussed within committee meetings.
What does it mean to be on Indigenous land? Should our approach to work, partnership building, and even personal behaviour change as we learn the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada?
Focused Time to Learn About Indigenous Health
Early in 2019, I managed a team that was circling these questions. This interest in learning the effects of history on Indigenous health led our group to introduce mechanisms to discuss and debate these issues, including formally protecting time on meeting agendas to discuss Indigenous history. These efforts originally took the shape of watching clips from the Truth and Reconciliation website and reading the Commissions’ Calls to Action.
Over several months, however, our approach evolved. We listened and discussed podcasts of Indigenous content, attended Indigenous-led lectures, and shared media stories reflective of Indigenous perspectives. When Ryerson University Educator Hayden King posted a podcast on why he regrets writing the University’s territorial acknowledgment, we listened and learned from it. And when the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released, we watched and discussed several of the powerful testimonial videos.
“Having Indigenous health as a focus of regular team meetings allows us to work together to further understand issues and use our learnings to shape our work,” said one team member upon reflection.
“We need to go beyond what we are used to when attempting to grasp and understand the history and current context of Indigenous peoples in Canada,” noted another.
Other Strategies to Consider
There are other ideas to consider in an effort to learn truth and begin reconciliation: attend Indigenous history events, consult with, and be informed by, Indigenous experts, seek out Indigenous-specific professional development courses, strengthen partnerships with Indigenous stakeholders and clients, and consciously move beyond territorial acknowledgments to a more meaningful way of recognizing and appreciating the land on which we work, live and play.
These aren’t revolutionary actions. But they are steps toward a fuller understanding of Canada’s history and our relationship with Indigenous peoples. Through these efforts, I have gained increased awareness and understanding of Indigenous health issues with a view to continuously improve my approach to work.
Much More to be Done
Of course, much more should and needs to be done: at individual, team and organizational levels. The team I managed and the committees I participate on don’t pretend to know everything about how to approach the Calls to Action. Truth be told, the more we commit to studying, the more we realize how much we still need to learn.
But the journey has certainly been revealing. And often uncomfortable and embarrassing; distressing and painful. But that’s okay. It’s not about me or a staff team or members of a committee. It’s not about making us feel comfortable. It’s about learning truth and humbly engaging in reconciliation efforts.
There is no doubt it will be a long journey. One that in all likelihood will not and should not end. But it promises to be a journey that will be well worth the effort.
About the Author:
Benjamin Rempel holds a Master’s of Public Health and has served in public health management for over fifteen years. He currently acts as Member-at-Large for Health Promotion Ontario. He lives and works in Toronto. Contact him at: www.linkedin.com/in/benjaminrempel
Blog post image credit: Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash