Orange shirt pins made by Ashley Migwans
Orange shirt pins made by Ashley Migwans, Coordinator in Indigenous Health and Social Medicine at UHN, sit atop a smudge bowl, which was crafted by her father, Cheyenne Migwans. (Courtesy Ashley Migwans)

"We call upon those who can effect change within the Canadian healthcare system to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients in collaboration with Aboriginal Healers and Elders where requested by Aboriginal patients." (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Call to Action No. 22)

To mark annual Orange Shirt Day and the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, UHN is committing to actionable steps for improving Indigenous health.

Every year, on Sept. 30, UHN commemorates Orange Shirt Day, which is dedicated to creating opportunities for meaningful discussion about all aspects of residential schools and their lasting effects.

This past June, the Canadian government established the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30 as a federal statutory holiday in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) Call to Action No. 80. This announcement came after the discovery of more than 6,000 unmarked graves at former residential schools across the country.

At a commemorative ceremony on Thursday, held at the Michener Gitigan (the Anishinaabemowin word for garden) at the Michener Institute of Education at UHN, UHN's Indigenous Health Program will announce the organization's commitment to enacting and being accountable to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to actions related to healthcare. Specifically, these are Calls to Action Nos. 18 through 24, but also to others that impact health and well-being.

Each September, UHN will make a formal commitment to operationalize a specific call to action. This year, UHN will be addressing Call to Action No. 22 of the TRC.

Here are some of the steps UHN is committed to taking over the next year:

  • Respectful, inviting and reciprocal relationship-building with the Indigenous community
  • Acknowledging, welcoming and honouring the knowledge and expertise of Indigenous Elders, Traditional Healers, Knowledge Keepers and community members at UHN, including appropriate and timely compensation for their time and knowledge
  • Incorporating Indigenous healing practices and Indigenous views of health and well-being into the current standard of care offered at UHN, including but not limited to: traditional consultation and the use of traditional medicines and ceremony
  • Revision of UHN's current policy on "Smudging & Burning of Sacred Elements for Spiritual Observances & Practices," to be inclusive of all Indigenous ceremonial practices

"UHN is privileged to have the wisdom, guidance and teachings of the Indigenous Health Program members, who under their leadership, are guiding us to a place of mutual understanding and respect," says Dr. Kevin Smith, UHN President and CEO. "There is much work to be done in order to prepare for the reconciliation journey.

"UHN looks forward to taking the necessary steps to make this an organization that is inclusive, aware and caring to the Indigenous community."

Steps forward

As a healthcare institution, UHN is putting in the work to acknowledge historic harms to Indigenous people and taking tangible steps to dismantle racism in healthcare.

The Indigenous Health Program at UHN was launched in November of 2020 and was a major milestone for the organization.

Since the program's inception, UHN has welcomed a new Strategic Lead, Michael Anderson, as well as Ashley Migwans, the first Coordinator in Indigenous Health and Social Medicine at UHN, and Leonard Benoit, Indigenous Patient and Programs Navigator, Toronto Regional Cancer Program.

"Too often, Indigenous people feel unwelcome in healthcare institutions," says Michael Anderson. "The formation of the Indigenous Health Program is an important commitment in the journey to making UHN a culturally safe institution for Indigenous people.

"Healthcare only becomes accessible when you can walk through the door and feel respected and understood. We hope to make UHN a place that no longer has systemic barriers to healthcare for Indigenous peoples – a place they feel safe and can get proper access to care."

Some highlights from the Indigenous Health Program at UHN to date include the co-creation of Maad'ookiing Mshkiki (Sharing Medicine), a partnership with Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and the installation of the Michener Gitigan at the Michener Institute for Education at UHN.

A recording of Thursday's ceremony will be shared at a later date in UHN on the Go.

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