On June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day is recognized and celebrated across the country. Thousands of people are joining together at hundreds of events, gatherings and celebrations across Turtle Island today and this week, many organized by First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. In treaty and unceded territories alike, Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks are engaging around the history and culture of these lands like never before. While celebrations alone will not pave the road to reconciliation, they are an important space to build relationships, have awkward conversations, and to promote knowledge-sharing and unlearning colonial narratives – all of which contribute to the work of reconciliation in a broader sense.

But alongside celebrations, this day and this week provide catalysts for deeper and wider conversations, heightened awareness and understanding by leaders and governments at all levels. We all need to be thinking about the next steps to identify and dismantle colonialism’s structures and inequities.

At the Alliance, alongside our interprofessional primary health care organization members, which include Indigenous primary health care organizations who are also members of the Indigenous Primary Health Care Council, we see many areas for action. Namely:

  • Action now for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. All levels of government must put in place firm, coordinated and measurable action plans on the 231 Calls for Justice contained in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQ+ people continues to this day. But, according to a detailed analysis published recently by the CBC, just two of the calls have been completed, and fewer than half have been started. Until governments, ministries and officials have accountable targets they are responsible for, apathy and inaction will continue. We need leaders who will take up these calls as if they are a matter of life and death. Because they are.
  • Action now for Indigenous health in Indigenous hands. The final report of the National Inquiry recommendations also focused on the “right to health” and the need to address root causes of disproportionate violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQ+ people, including “the need for accessible and culturally appropriate health, mental health, and addictions services.” A key principle that must also be applied is Indigenous health in Indigenous hands: programs, organizations and systems governed and led by Indigenous people. Indigenous health being in Indigenous hands is integral to improving health outcomes, and the key to lasting systemic change.
  • Action now on climate change and its impacts on communities, population health and health equity. For Indigenous people (and many non-Indigenous people, too), health of the land is health of the community. Inaction on climate change means that health disparities and inequities among Indigenous people and communities will worsen. We know this from the evidence – either the “hard” evidence of recent wildfires making it difficult to breathe or drink the water in northern communities, while also exacerbating many health conditions of people all across Canada. We also know it from places like The Lancet. Whatever way we look at it, we need to work more closely with Indigenous leaders, including health leaders, to address climate change’s impacts on those who are already faced with socio-economic barriers and vulnerable conditions, including racism. People need support to mitigate the impacts on their living environments. Resilience doesn’t appear out of nowhere: we have to create the conditions for people to build it, and give them resources to support the work.
  • Action now to address anti-Indigenous racism in Canada’s power structures. Canada, its governments, institutions and organizations need to do more to identify and remove systemic racism. Police forces discriminate against and are apathetic towards Indigenous people and their suffering. Legacy colonial power structures of the federal government bureaucracy show their racist and colonial roots when they’re challenged; systems of oppression built on colonial power structures will not change on their own, or overnight. But they can be challenged actively, instead of passively. We can demand more of our highest levels of government and its leaders. And we can insist, for instance, that people making decisions that impact Indigenous lives have a baseline of understanding and training, as we aim to do in health care through the adoption of trainings like IPHCC’s  Anishinaabe Mino’Ayaawin – People in Good Health Cultural Safety Training. The road to reconciliation is an active road – and leaders at all levels must be mindful of this. Dismantling systemic colonial racism can’t be done on a “case by case” basis. We need to be changing systems, not just individual minds.

So as we celebrate and learn more together today and this week, let’s also realize that our individual actions, taken collectively, are what make towns, cities, provinces and nations. We cannot simply wait for others to take action for us. Instead, we must ask questions of ourselves, our families, our communities and our elected representatives.

There are many ways for all of us to hold ourselves and those around us accountable. And we must. The lives of future generations depend on our actions today.



Wednesday, June 21, 2023