Embracing tradition and aspiring for inclusive health care

June 12, 2024.

As a partner of the Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Ontario Health Team (FLA OHT), Ardoch Algonquin First Nation plays an invaluable role in shaping the future of health care in our region. We are committed to engaging with Indigenous community members and incorporating Indigenous teachings and tools into our work. By learning from Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, we aim to create a more inclusive and effective health-care system that recognizes and integrates Indigenous health practices, enhancing health outcomes for Indigenous Peoples.

We spoke with Mireille LaPointe, a member of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, to understand Ardoch’s aspirations for the future of Indigenous health care, how they envision Indigenous voices shaping the design and delivery of health care, and what impact they hope their involvement will have on the FLA OHT's initiatives and the broader community.

About Ardoch Algonquin First Nation
Ardoch Algonquin First Nation is an Anishnabek Algonquin community deeply rooted in the Madawaska, Mississippi and Rideau watersheds. Today, members of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation live in Ardoch, but also in places like Carleton Place, Westport Peterborough, Toronto, and more, but, as Mireille shares, “An Indigenous community is not only about place; it’s about belonging. Our community's identity is woven through our shared history and relationships.”

Aspirations for Indigenous health care

Mireille spoke about her own and her community’s aspirations for the future of health care for Indigenous populations. She envisions a future where Indigenous health care is not an add-on but an integrated and visible part of the system. “Recently, a community member with stage 4 cancer was unaware of the Indigenous Patient Navigator at KGH [Kingston General Hospital]. This isn’t about pointing fingers at individuals; it's about the systemic failure - hospitals must ensure these services are known and accessible from the outset,” Mireille explains. “My community members are just like me; we are regular people who are looking for appropriate health care,” adds Mireille. “Instead of asking what aspirations we have for health care, we should be asking the [health-care] system what aspirations they have for the [kind of] care they want to provide.” She continues, “Every community deserves appropriate health care. The health-care system itself needs to aspire to meet their needs.”

Importance of Indigenous education in medical training
Mireille also explains that in her view, a critical barrier to providing appropriate Indigenous health care is the lack of Indigenous teachings in medical training. “Health-care providers are often not attuned to Indigenous health care needs because they have been schooled without Indigenous teachings,” Mireille notes. “This gap in education is a result of colonialism. It shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of Indigenous Peoples to ensure that health-care providers understand our needs; it's also the responsibility of the educational systems to include well-thought-out Indigenous presence in their curricula and institutions. Without incorporating the Indigenous worldview from the beginning [of training], there is no sensitivity or understanding of colonialism's impact on [Indigenous] society and health, and subsequently medical care becomes inadequate for Indigenous populations.”

Indigenous voices in health-care design and FLA OHT initiatives
For Mireille, the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in all aspects of health care is fundamental. “The current health-care system is not working for Indigenous Peoples. I don’t think it’s possible within the current system for health-care professionals to provide holistic care with an Indigenous worldview, because they don’t have the necessary knowledge or training to do so,” notes Mireille. “Real change must start with education, incorporating Indigenous worldviews to ensure a holistic and inclusive approach to health-care delivery.”

That’s why the input and perspectives shared by Ardoch Algonquin First Nation through their involvement in the FLA OHT are so crucial; they are helping bring diverse Indigenous voices, knowledge and lived experience to the forefront of health-care discussions. “Our community operates through a Heads of Family Council that meets once a month, where we discuss issues and bring them back to members for discussion,” shares Mireille. As she explains, this approach allows for broad participation and representation among their community, and they can bring relevant insights and feedback to the FLA OHT. 

Mireille’s insights underscore the need for inclusive and comprehensive health care for Indigenous communities, which includes offering Indigenous health practices tailored for Indigenous Peoples. She emphasizes that this approach will ultimately benefit everyone, “The Indigenous worldview sees health as holistic, an approach that considers much more than just a person’s physical condition,” adds Mireille. She highlights the importance of addressing the many factors that influence overall health and wellbeing—mental, spiritual, social, and emotional—not just specific health problems or physical concerns.

We are grateful to Indigenous partners, like Mireille and Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, who tirelessly advocate for the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and worldviews within health-care design and delivery. Through their involvement in the FLA OHT, Ardoch Algonquin First Nation is helping to foster a health-care system that better understands and serves the needs of Indigenous Peoples in our region.