Representatives from SFU Health Sciences, the FNHA, and the Tzu Chi Foundation at the project launch.

Revitalizing First Nations ways of healing through traditional Chinese medicine

June 21, 2017

The SFU Faculty of Health Sciences has teamed up with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), and the Tzu Chi Foundation to implement a 6 month pilot project introducing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to First Nations communities in B.C. The project looks at how TCM may contribute to the health and well-being of First Nations communities, and help spark the revitalization of Indigenous traditional ways of healing.

A TCM clinic offering acupuncture services to residents of Snuneymuxw First Nation was recently launched as part of the study. Rachel Eni, who holds a PhD in Community Health Sciences from the College of Medicine, University of Manitoba, and is a licensed acupuncturist working at the Coastal Roots Health Clinic in Victoria, is running the clinic. Eni will also direct the study to assess the residents’ experiences of being treated at the clinics to determine the effectiveness of TCM.

“The importance of promoting First Nations health and wellness through traditional healing has long been overlooked by the health care system,” says John O’Neil, Dean of SFU Health Sciences, and one of the project leads. Traditional healing refers to health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating ceremonies; plant, animal or mineral-based medicines; energetic therapies; or physical/hands on techniques.

“The recognition that there may be synergies between First Nations traditional healing and other traditional approaches to wellness such as TCM, is therefore at the core of this project,” says O’Neil.

Strong evidence shows that acupuncture is effective for relieving chronic pain conditions that many First Nations people suffer from. However, many of B.C.’s First Nations communities hold similar ideas about addressing health issues with herbal and natural remedies, as practitioners of TCM have been doing for thousands of years.

The project also helps to conceptualize how First Nations traditional health practitioners may be regulated and reimbursed in B.C.

“This collaboration is an exploration of opportunities to include traditional approaches to healing in new First Nations approaches to primary care, and the potential of such approaches to empower individuals in First Nations communities to develop their health and wellness journey,” says Joe Gallagher, CEO at the FNHA.

The International College of Traditional Chinese Medicine of Vancouver, which is run by the Tzu Chi Foundation, is providing additional acupuncturists to support the project and may also be offering scholarships to First Nations students to study acupuncture.