Imagine that you are feeling ill at home and your symptoms worsen to the point that you need medical care at a hospital. But rather than seeking the help you need, you are hesitant to go because you may be disregarded or treated poorly by the hospital staff. While this thought would not cross the minds of most white people living in Canada, it remains a major concern for many Indigenous people.
As we celebrate World Kidney Day, which this year embodies the theme of “Bridge the knowledge gap to better kidney care,” it’s important to not just focus on obvious knowledge gaps, such as the need for new therapies to treat kidney disease, but also the knowledge gap among non-Indigenous people – related to racial biases, anti-Indigenous racism and colonialism – that leaves many First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals and communities with subpar levels of care.
Members of the Indigenous Peoples’ Engagement and Research Council (IPERC) at Can-SOLVE CKD have been taking important steps to help address these gaps in knowledge and bring Indigenous voices into the spotlight, both within the research network and beyond. This includes the development of the Wabishki Bizhiko Skaanj learning pathway, among many other initiatives.
The learning pathway is a series of programs and trainings that people in health research and care settings can take to learn more about the historical and ongoing impacts of colonialism on Indigenous Peoples in Canada. It also aims to highlight the unique cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis from coast to coast, as well as their respective ways of knowing, being and healing.
Craig Settee is Cree/Anishinaabe and a citizen of Fisher River Cree Nation (Treaty 5 Territory), Manitoba. He has been helping to develop the learning pathway for several years, and points to numerous reasons the pathway is helpful for improving the quality of care that Indigenous people experience.
“It’s important for non-Indigenous people to understand the social determinants of health that we [as Indigenous people] experience,” he explains. For example, colonialism altered the traditional foods systems of Indigenous people, making it harder to access healthy foods due to Nations’ access to their own traditional territories often hindered by private land ownership or being Crown Lands. As well, Indigenous people are still healing after centuries of harmful policies and imposed colonial systems, such as the Indian Act, Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop.
Increasing non-Indigenous peoples’ awareness of colonial history and their own racial biases helps bring us one step closer to addressing the gaps in care between Indigenous people and the general public. Another critical step that needs to be taken is to ensure that Indigenous voices are present and heard within research and health care settings.
The formation of IPERC within Can-SOLVE CKD has helped to amplify Indigenous voices across the network, notes Settee. “It’s good to to support voices and share our experiences to help shape and re-shape research projects, and to shift the attitudes and beliefs of the people who take care of us in those hospital settings and in research settings,” he explains.