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National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: Indigenous Women and Healthcare

Our Role as Settlers on Indigenous Land

As settlers on Indigenous land, we must acknowledge the privilege we have of being here, the richness of Indigenous people and cultures, and the brutalization that Indigenous people have historically faced and continue to face at the hands of our systems and institutions. It’s crucial that we support and uplift Indigenous voices.

Indigenous Women’s Health

Indigenous women disproportionately face barriers to healthcare, particularly because they exist at the intersection of race and gender (Browne & Vicki, 2002).

We must acknowledge the complex contributors to the health outcomes of Indigenous women. As Browne & Vicki (2002) note, “[c]onsistent with western biomedical assumptions about the basis of health and illness, [...] the tendency within the healthcare system has been to medicalize social problems as arising from individual lifestyles, cultural differences or biological predisposition - rather than from impoverished social and economic circumstances, marginalization and oppressive internal colonial politics”

Because of the ongoing effects of settler colonialism, Indigenous women are in greater need of health services and are more susceptible to poor health outcomes. Despite their need, they face inequitable access to health care when compared to other demographics in Canada. The many challenges associated with health status among Indigenous women in Canada can be largely attributed to historical precedents, such as genocide and residential schools, and the resulting socio-economic circumstances (Browne & Vicki, 2002).

Improving the health of Indigenous women is critical not only for individuals, but also for the revitalization of Indigenous families and communities. Women's role as mothers and primary caregivers extends their influence throughout generations.

Truth and Reconciliation Committee Calls to Action: Health

To create a preliminary guideline to help address inequities Indigenous communities face, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada created a report in 2015 with 94 Calls to Action. Read some of their calls to action for healthcare below:

“We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognize and implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in international law, constitutional law, and under the Treaties.”

“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.”

“We call upon all levels of government to:

i. Increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the healthcare field.

ii. Ensure the retention of Aboriginal healthcare providers in Aboriginal communities.

iii. Provide cultural competency training for all healthcare professionals.”

What can we do?

  • Acknowledge Indigenous health and healing practices. While many of us may be accustomed to Western biomedicine which is dominant in our healthcare system, it’s important to make space for Indigenous knowledge of healing so they may receive culturally sensitive care.

  • Call for healthcare providers to receive training and education on Indigenous history. Providing good healthcare requires knowing your patients. Increasing education surrounding the unique vulnerabilities Indigenous communities and individuals face can help reduce harm caused by conscious and unconscious biases.

  • Be aware of your role as a settler. It’s important to stay aware and critical of your role as a settler on Indigenous land. How can we support and uplift Indigenous voices?

  • Stay updated on Indigenous issues. Educate yourself on issues that persist throughout Indigenous communities, such as missing and murdered Indigenous women and the historic and ongoing forced sterilization of Indigenous women (Ryan et al., 2021).


Browne, A., & Smye, V. (2002). A post-colonial analysis of healthcare discourses addressing Aboriginal women. Nurse Researcher (through 2013), 9(3), 28–41.

Ryan, C., Ali, A., & Shawana, C. (2021). Forced or Coerced Sterilization in Canada: An Overview of Recommendations for Moving Forward. International Journal of Indigenous Health, 16(1), Article 1.

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