Project explores alternative healing practices for First Nations communities

February 14, 2018

By Halimah Beaulieu

SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences teamed up with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) and the Tzu Chi Foundation to implement a six-month pilot project last year that introduced traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to First Nations communities in B.C.

The first community to participate was the Snuneymuxw First Nation in Nanaimo, B.C. where residents could attend a TCM clinic offering acupuncture services. Strong evidence shows that acupuncture is effective for relieving the chronic pain conditions that many First Nations people suffer.

While the project examines how TCM may contribute to First Nations peoples’ health and well-being, the ultimate goal is to see whether this alternative medicine practice can help spark a revitalization of traditional Indigenous ways of healing.

“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.

Says project lead John O’Neil, SFU professor of health sciences, “The importance of promoting First Nations health and wellness through traditional healing has long been overlooked by the health care system.”

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.

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

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