Supporting Responses to The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Through Indigenizing and Decolonizing Teaching About Canadian Health Systems

Roman Catholic Hospital at Aklavik under course of construction, 1925. Indian and Northern Affairs departmental library albums, Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1973-357 NPC, item 1925-70.

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Ruth Lavergne, Faculty of Health Sciences

Project teamNicole Dawydiuk, Emily Rees, and Joseph Ssendikaddiwa, research assistants

Timeframe: January 2017 to April 2018

Funding: $4728

Course addressed: HSCI 305 – The Canadian Health System

Final report: View Ruth Lavergne's final report (PDF)

Description: Over the course of six years, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) gathered testimony from more than 6,000 Aboriginal people in response to the legacy of Canadian residential schools. In 2015 the TRC issued a report listing 94 calls to action to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.

Four recommendations focus on Education for Reconciliation. Among these are calls to implement curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history, to integrate Aboriginal knowledge and teaching methods into the classroom, and to build student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect. Though not all are aimed at the post-secondary level, SFU and other post-secondary institutions are positioned to address gaps in knowledge among students who were not exposed to relevant curriculum in K-12 education. An additional seven calls to action focus on Health. The Faculty of Heath Sciences (FHS) at SFU has an additional responsibility to ensure that the students it trains understand the context and content of these calls, and are positioned to work to respond to them through the training they receive.

HSCI 305 The Canadian Health System is a course that is positioned to contribute to SFU and FHS responsibilities post-TRC. As it covers the history and development of health-related policies in Canada, the history of residential schools and the links between Aboriginal health disparities and government policies programs should be discussed, but haven’t figured prominently up to this point. As the course is intended to orient health sciences students to health systems in Canada, it provides an opportunity to discuss health-related TRC calls to action and how health systems may respond to them. As students may go on to play roles in health promotion and health care, it provides an opportunity to explore attitudes toward Aboriginal people that may contribute to violence, stereotyping, and discrimination in health and social systems.

Questions addressed:

  • What impact does modified curriculum have on student knowledge of 1) Canada’s history of colonization and its impact on health and health care for Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and 2) opportunities for health system responses to Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation commission (TRC)?
  • What attitudes toward Aboriginal people are revealed by student responses in tutorial discussion? Do these change between the beginning and end of the term?
  • What are students’ opinions on content and activities related to Aboriginal people and issues?

Knowledge sharing: We submitted an abstract to the Canadian Association of Health Services and Policy Research conference in May 2018, as this is a meeting where many others may teach similar health systems courses. Teaching is not typically a focus of this conference and our abstract was not accepted. We will seek other opportunities for dissemination of this work.

Following posting of the report on the ISTLD website I plan to tweet key findings and observations, along with a link to the report, from my personal Twitter account. Many of my twitter followers also work and teach in the area of health systems and may be able to apply findings in their work.

Keywords: Aboriginal; truth and reconciliation; intercultural understanding; ways of thinking; perspectives; iClicker questions; exam data; student attitudes; tutorial activities; Indigenous; colonization; decolonization; racism; health systems; health care; Canadian; cultural safety; cultural humility