June 10, 2024. 

The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (MBQ) are a community deeply rooted in the Kanyen’kehá:ka (Mohawk) culture and tradition. It is part of the Mohawk Nation within the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, one of the Six Nation communities politically associated with the Iroquois Caucus and a member First Nation of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI). They are governed by the Tyendinaga Mohawk Council, entrusted with preserving and advancing the rights, culture and wellbeing of their people.

FLA OHT partnership
The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte are also an important member of the Frontenac Lennox & Addington Ontario Health Team (FLA OHT), bringing invaluable perspectives and insights towards our vision of a healthier community  where we all have equitable access to high-quality care, services and supports. We spoke with Susan Barberstock, Director of Community Wellbeing for the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, about MBQ’s approach to health and wellness, their role as an FLA OHT partner, hopes for the future of health and wellness for Indigenous Peoples in our region, and the significance of National Indigenous History Month.

MBQ approach to health and wellness
For the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, health is holistic, encompassing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. As Susan explains, “Our approach to health is deeply rooted in our language, culture, and traditions. It's about that connection and understanding of oneself and one's community.” It’s this approach to holistic health and wellness that guides the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte’s participation in the FLA OHT, advocating for inclusive and culturally safe health care. Susan underscores how important it is for the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte to be engaged in the work of the FLA OHT, citing relationships and collaboration as pivotal in developing health care that meets diverse needs. “It's about the relationships and how we work together to create those culturally safe spaces so that everybody's needs are being met holistically,” adds Susan.

In the context of the FLA OHT, Susan emphasizes the value of applying the concept of “two-eye seeing” to health care co-design. This approach, as Susan describes, involves viewing health care with both an Indigenous lens, rooted in traditions and cultural practices, and a Western lens, which often includes modern medical practices, and blending Indigenous and Western perspectives. “You have these two eyes seeing with two different concepts; how do they work together?” asks Susan.

Aligning Indigenous and Western practices
Susan explains how this perspective also aligns with the principles of the Two Row Wampum, the basis of agreements between the Haudenosaunee and other nations, which represents relationships based on peace, friendship and mutual respect. Susan reinforces the importance of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities working together to design a holistic approach to health care delivery that recognizes the value of both traditional Indigenous practices and Western medicine in improving health outcomes. “We need to move forward and work hand-in-hand, side-by-side and walk the path together,” she adds.

An important part of blending Indigenous and Western perspectives in health care is ensuring that providers maintain an open mind towards different types of health care and medicine, explains Susan. She underscores the need for providers to be adaptable and inclusive in their approach to health care delivery to ensure that all individuals receive the care that aligns with their cultural beliefs and practices.

Celebrating National Indigenous History Month
These are important learnings and reminders as we celebrate National Indigenous History Month, and all year round, as we work with our partners to deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate care for everyone in our region, and work to build capacity to support the health and social needs of Indigenous communities. National Indigenous History Month presents an opportunity for all health care providers and FLA OHT partners to reflect on actionable ways to enhance Indigenous health and wellness in our communities. Susan highlights the need for ongoing work and reflection in this area - not just in June, “Even though it's a spotlight for a short period of time, it's something that has to happen and that we need to do on a consistent basis.” Susan continues, “It's about raising that awareness of colonization, and making sure that mainstream service providers are creating culturally safe spaces for the Indigenous population by increasing their cultural competency levels.” She emphasizes that while online initiatives are a great starting point, more is needed, including creating relationships through one-on-one interactions. Susan recommends the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action, specifically the health-related ones, as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as good references and starting points.

Looking ahead, Susan hopes for a future with decreased health disparities and improved access to culturally safe health care for Indigenous Peoples. She emphasizes that building trust, understanding and collaboration will be key in achieving these aspirations. Her words highlight the value of diverse perspectives and skills in health care, underscoring the need for mutual support and understanding in achieving wellness for all. As she aptly puts it, “We all come with different pieces. We all come with a different skill set, a different knowledge base, and our attitudes and our values are different. But how we work together and support each other is key to making real change.”