Mar 01, 2016
By R. Lisa Bourque Bearskin, PhD, RN

Through the lens of truth and reconciliation: Next steps

The A.N.A.C. president says it is time that all Canadians recognize the inherent rights of the Indigenous peoples in Canada

The reports have been published, the recommendations made. On behalf of the members of the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada (A.N.A.C.), I extend our heartfelt gratitude to the commissioners for their spirit and strength in completing the extremely important work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

If Canada is to flourish in the 21st century, the intergenerational trauma stemming from the residential school system must continue to be addressed throughout the process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Our organization concurs with Justice Murray Sinclair’s description of this dark chapter as “nothing short of cultural genocide.” All of Canada needs to understand the devastating effects of the legacy of residential schools on individuals, families and communities and of its widespread impact on policy-making.

Only by gaining this understanding can the vision that every child matters be fully realized. A.N.A.C.’s members will continue to advocate in the health-care community for the vision that every client/patient matters.

The wisdom of A.N.A.C.’s Indigenous nurses teaches us that all Canadians — and every nurse — can engage in relationships at the personal, public, professional and political level that are authentic, reciprocal and meaningful if the steps of listening, knowing, being and doing are followed.

Listen to the people, hear the suffering and be aware of your own bias. Know how bias unfolds in your day-to-day practice and how it influences your perceptions and approaches. Be present; help people exercise their personhood and empower them by giving them space to speak their language, tell their stories and direct their care. Finally, do everything you can to ensure reconciliation continues.

As Chief Wilton Littlechild, one of the commissioners, stated, “Education got us into this mess, and education will get us out of it.” As nurses, we have a moral imperative to understand the impact of legislated identities and the influence of colonization on the overall wellness of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. A.N.A.C. needs and welcomes the participation of its non-Indigenous nursing allies in this important work.

Familiarize yourself with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and use this knowledge to inform your work in policy development. Always remember that policy is not made to be static. Listen to those who know what is not working in the system, and be prepared to enact social justice by grounding your decisions in the UN declaration. Be prepared to reflect on the purpose of each policy: will it improve access to health care, or will it create more barriers? Take a stand on the right to health for Indigenous people and support initiatives to redesign the health system and improve the quality of nursing care. Insist that schools of nursing respond to the call for mandatory education in Indigenous health issues, teachings and practices.

A.N.A.C. believes that Indigenous people have the answers and that putting Indigenous health back into their hands is essential. In 2016, it is time to uphold Indigenous rights in Canada. As I write this column, A.N.A.C. is preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary at an event in Montreal, where we will gather to honour our founding members and the wealth of contributions they and so many others have made to the field of Indigenous nursing education, practice, policy and research for First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations in Canada.

R. Lisa Bourque Bearskin, PhD, RN, is president of the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada.

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