Indigenous History Month Graphic

This message was sent out earlier today by Dr. Kevin Smith, UHN President & CEO

Dear Colleagues,

Today, we mark the beginning of National Indigenous History Month, an opportunity to celebrate the heritage, history, cultures and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. We are reminded that UHN exists on the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, the Haudenosaunee, and most recently, the Mississauga's of the Credit River. We are so fortunate to be able to work and live on this sacred land.

This year, National Indigenous History month begins under painful circumstances. Towards the end of May, a mass grave was uncovered on the grounds of a former residential school in Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Territory (Kamloops). Two hundred and fifteen (215) children were buried in the mass grave, many of their deaths where undocumented in national archives. From the early 1830s well into the late 1990s, residential schools operated across Canada. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were systematically taken away from their families and placed in these schools. It is estimated that over 4000 children did not return to their families. The uncovering of the mass grave on Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Territory is a visible reminder of harm that has affected Indigenous families across Turtle Island. The afterlives of residential schools continue to be felt in the present. This is not an anomaly or isolated incident, Indigenous communities draw our attention to similar gravesites and losses in regions across the country. Residential schools are part of the fabric of colonization in Canada. They shape the present.

It is incumbent on all of us to listen and believe what Indigenous people tell us about the harm caused to their communities and families throughout history by these institutions. Similar harms continue today, with infrastructure that alienates Indigenous children from their families and communities. The events of the last week are a reminder we have much learning to do, no matter how well intentioned and educated we consider ourselves to be. To our Indigenous colleagues, for whom this news is a fresh reminder of recurring harm and disruption to your families and communities, I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering this has caused you, especially in a year that has already seen so much loss and disproportionate harm due to COVID-19 on your communities.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of a residential school experience. Support is available at 1-866-925-4419.

National Indigenous History month holds a reminder for us all to actively work towards dismantling racism. UHN is a place where Indigenous people have been harmed. I acknowledge that racism towards First Nations, Inuit and Métis people exists here too. I remind all of us of the urgent need to create safer spaces for Indigenous people walking through our doors – this includes staff, patients and their families and learners. It is our duty, especially as healthcare providers, to not just acknowledge historic harms to Indigenous people; we must also work to dismantle systemic anti-Indigenous racism in the present. I am hopeful that through collaboration with the new Indigenous Health Program (IHP) at UHN, we can make the necessary steps toward becoming a more inclusive and equitable healthcare institution.

The launch of the Indigenous Health Program (IHP) in November was an incredible milestone for UHN. We are so privileged to have the wisdom, guidance and teachings of the IHP members, who under their leadership, are guiding us to a place of mutual understanding and respect. We were fortunate to welcome Ashley Migwans, the first Coordinator in Indigenous Health and Social Medicine at UHN, and more recently Leonard Benoit (Indigenous Patient and Programs Navigator, TRCP).

The IHP co-chairs Dr. Lisa Richardson (Staff Physician, General Internal Medicine) and Dr. Bernice Downey (Assistant Professor, McMaster University) share this statement on behalf of the Program:

"The Indigenous Health Program will bridge important gaps. The highly-skilled team behind the program are committed to making UHN a culturally safe institution for Indigenous peoples. Our work ensures that First Nations, Inuit and Métis people walking through UHN's doors receive respectful, quality care, free of discrimination and anti-Indigenous racism. The IHP team will work across teams within UHN and establish key partnerships with external stakeholders and community members."

Here are some highlights of the work thus far: 

  • Formalization of an Indigenous-led, Indigenous Health Program (IHP). The program was launched in November 2020, Co-Chaired by Dr. Lisa Richardson (Staff Physician, General Internal Medicine) and Dr. Bernice Downey (Assistant Professor, McMaster University)Lead (interim) Ashley Migwans (Coordinator, Indigenous Health and Social Medicine) and Leonard Benoit (TRCP  Indigenous Patient and Programs Navigator). We look forward to supporting the IHP as they focus on:
    • Relationship building with local, regional and provincial Indigenous communities, organizations and partners
    • Provide support and advocacy for First Nations, Inuit and Métis patients and their families
    • Develop programs and supports that align with Indigenous models of governance, cultural practices, knowledges and philosophies
    • Provide support to staff and learners in the space of Indigenous cultural safety training, anti-racist practice and trauma-informed care
  • Maad'ookiing Mshkiki (Sharing Medicine). TheIHP at UHN co-led this initiative to support First Nations, Inuit and Metis in making informed choices by providing timely, accurate, trauma-informed, and culturally relevant information about medical concepts related to available COVID-19 vaccinations. See full website
  • Partnership with Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC). A strategic planning and relationship building partnership between the IHP and PMCC focussing on education (Indigenous cultural safety training for staff, division rounds), clinical care (patient support, community outreach, referrals) and research (community informed and led). We are excited about the early planning stages for a new Indigenous Healing Space at UHN that patients and staff can access the space for ceremony, traditional medicines and consultations with Elders, Traditional Healers, Knowledge Keepers and community. 
  • Michener Gitigan (Garden). The installation of an Indigenous Healing Garden at the Michener Institute for Education will take place this June. This partnership between Michener and Indigenous Community partners is based on honouring and respecting the land, native plants to the area and traditional plants and medicines and their uses. We look forward to the educational opportunities for staff, learners, and all community members. 

Real and lasting change must be through a collective effort. Today, I reiterate our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion at UHN, and commit to working in partnership with the IHP, Indigenous staff, patients, and the community. On behalf of  UHN's Board of Trustees and Senior Management Forum, we wish everyone a meaningful Indigenous History Month.


National Indigenous History Month Events and Resources

  • Ribbon tying ceremony, Thursday, June 3 at 2:00 p.m. Please join us for a ribbon tying ceremony to honour the 215 children and all those affected by the Residential and Day School systems. The ceremony will include:
    • Elder welcoming, prayer and words of wisdom; Statement from IHP & SLT
    • Smudge ceremony, Healing and honouring song
    • Tying of the ribbons
    • Travelling song

    * More details to follow shortly.

    • More Than Words – National Indigenous History Month & People's Day. The IHP has collaborated with the Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health-WCH, The Indigenous Cancer Program-TRCP, Ontario Health (Toronto), and U of T's Office of Indigenous Health to host a number of events throughout the month of June and have collaborated on creating a Virtual Resource Space that shares a calendar, highlighting several amazing initiatives and events to mark National Indigenous History Month and Indigenous People's Day.
    • For more information about the Indigenous Health Program at UHN, please contact: The IHP website will be launching later this month.

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