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A Call to Action: Queen’s launches Indigenous healthcare and teaching resource

Graphic art: from left to right, Michael “Cy” Cywink, "It is What it is"; Jaylene Cardinal, "The Indigenous Ways of Healing”; Jamaica Cass "Mind, Body, Spirit"; Jamaica Cass "A Colourful Mind"; and Lindsay Brant & Colson Brumwell, "Grounded in Peace". For details on this art module, please see Artist Perspectives of Indigenous Healthcare Education/Practice.

Learning and absorbing the truth about the biases, discrimination, and structural inequities within the healthcare system is a journey that requires “longitudinal learning,” says Dr. Sarah Funnell, Director of Indigenous Health in Queen’s Department of Family Medicine.

Dr. Funnell’s Algonquin name is Minwanimad, and her ancestors are from Kitigan Zibi First Nation, an Algonquin community, as well as Tuscarora Nation, a Haudenosaunee community. She grew up on Alderville First Nation west of Kingston, amongst the Mississauga peoples. A First Nations physician and a public health specialist, Dr. Funnell recently contributed to the creation of new interactive digital resources on Indigenous healthcare and practice.

“For an area as complex as Indigenous health, the process of learning has to be transformative for an individual,” she says. “Often at the beginning, people are shocked, angry, and sad as they learn about how Indigenous peoples have been treated, and at the same time they’re holding onto this notion of Canada as this great country they know and love. There are many emotions, as they hold these two truths together. They go through this whole journey and it does require longitudinal learning. It is not just one moment in time.”

The open digital resources are now playing a critical part of this journey for students, faculty and staff within Queen’s Health Sciences. The digital tool covers seven key themes – including culturally safe healthcare and healthcare rights – and includes original artwork by Indigenous artists. Spurred by the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action on healthcare education, a community-led collaborative team of more than 50 people came together to create the resources, called Indigenous Healthcare and Practice: Applying Digital Teaching and Learning Resources to the TRC’s Calls to Action. 

“Educational components are an important step toward reconciliation and achieving health justice,” says Dr. Funnell. “We need collective action, and with these resources, learners can be inspired and moved. This learning can change the focus of careers, and practitioners can share this knowledge within their spheres of influence.”

The initiative was a partnership between Queen’s Health Sciences and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), with funding provided through eCampusOntario. The group included community members with lived experience, healthcare practitioners, educational researchers, artists, curriculum developers, and instructional designers, among many others. Queen’s Indigenous learners and employees played a key role on the team.

“We really wanted to mobilize this learning in a way that creates meaningful change,” says Dr. Klodiana Kolomitro, Director of Education Development at QHS and Queen’s Associate Vice-Principal (Teaching and Learning). “If we’re truly trying to foster collective healing and reconciliation, then it needs to start with our own unlearning. These resources are part of that, part of that momentum.”

Dr. Jason Pennington, an adjunct professor at Queen’s and a contributor to the resources, also emphasizes the importance of that journey of learning, which healthcare professionals need to travel to provide culturally appropriate care and to understand one’s own internal biases.

“We're always self-reflecting, gaining more insight, and learning on this journey of practicing in a culturally safe way for all of our patients,” says Dr. Pennington, a member of the Huron-Wendat Nation and a community general surgeon at the Scarborough Health Network, in one of the online modules.

“In Indigenous worldview and concepts around wellness, all things are related. There is a great correlation between language, culture, and wellness, and really understanding that relationship is so important in caring for Indigenous patients.”

The interconnection between language, culture, and wellness also prompted the team creating the resources to involve Indigenous artists and include their work in the resources. This has been common in other Indigenous truth gathering processes, Dr. Funnell notes, including Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“Our culture is what heals us and keeps us well. And for the artists, there is a sense of pride in being included in this process and having their work featured,” she says. “Building relationships and learning together were an important part of this work. Those things are just as powerful as the end product.”

Dr. Kolomitro echoes this, noting that creating a truly collaborative process was an end in itself.  

“It was so gratifying to see how this project came together. It was a large team of committed people. We laughed, cried, shared experiences and truths with one another. I learned so much.”

Indigenous students from Queen’s were among the key contributors – including as interviewees in videos appearing in the resource. For example, Nursing alumni Shalisa Barton stresses the importance of storytelling and real-life experiences as an educational tool: “As a learner, you're in a really unique position where you can share with your educators where you think gaps are, to challenge them, to bring these situations to light, to improve healthcare curriculums in the future and also to educate those around you by just having these conversations.”

Dr. Funnell forecasts an explosion of new resources will be available for healthcare students, and other learners, in the short term. At the same time, “there is still more truth to discover, still much more to learn,” she says. 

“We will learn more as the years go by. This is the longitudinal learning. We have to keep asking ourselves what type of teaching has the best effect on our healthcare practices.”


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