Raising awareness of Indigenous histories and cultures to advance reconciliation at PHAC

In February 2019, more than 100 employees of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) listened quietly, in Ottawa and online, to 74 year-old Alice Blondin-Perrin tell her story. Blondin-Perrin is a survivor of residential schools in the Northwest Territories where, for almost 10 years, she endured abuse. Today she is an Elder in her community and works toward achieving reconciliation. Employees who heard her experiences were touched by her forgiveness, strength and resilience.
In celebration of Indigenous Awareness Week in May 2019, PHAC employees attended a traditional performance of the Bear Nation drumming group and pow-wow dancers. Pow-wows are ceremonial celebrations of cultural pride. This event gave employees an opportunity to celebrate and commemorate Indigenous cultures, and to learn from the Indigenous performers.

These are just some of the many activities organized by the Indigenous Policy Team at PHAC to raise awareness of Indigenous histories and cultures within the Agency. This small and inspired team is working toward achieving reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis through renewed relationships based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. In the process, they are creating a blueprint for others to follow.

Sharing Information and Insights
PHAC's Indigenous Policy Team supports a community committed to advancing reconciliation and cultural competency across the Agency and beyond. Through information sessions, training and various fora, employees gain first-hand knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Indigenous histories and cultures, which is a key part of advancing reconciliation - a priority for the Agency.

To share information and practices, the team created the PHAC Indigenous Awareness GCconnex group, which has more than 330 members from across the Government of Canada. This platform provides interesting and educational information about First Nations, Inuit and Métis histories, cultures and current realities to raise awareness and to help inform PHAC's work with Indigenous Peoples. The group's quarterly newsletter, Indigenous Insights, explores issues such as cultural safety and cultural humility, which address racism and discrimination experienced by Indigenous Peoples within the health system.

In addition, the Indigenous Policy Team coordinates the PHAC Indigenous Working Group, a forum that brings together more than 130 employees to discuss and share information related to Indigenous topics. For example, Dr. John Kim from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg spoke at a recent meeting about mobilizing clinics for people with HIV and Hepatitis C in remote and northern communities. His practice of engaging the community and involving Indigenous leaders to reduce stigma and discrimination was especially valuable for epidemiologists at the session and their work on conducting surveys on HIV and Hepatitis C.

A Roadmap for the Agency
The team has also been instrumental in furthering the Agency's reconciliation agenda with the recent development of a Reconciliation Framework. The Agency's Framework sets out a roadmap to enhance employee awareness; underpins efforts to reduce inequities in health outcomes; calls for the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives in all aspects of PHAC's work; and supports Indigenous Peoples as active participants in shaping the path forward.

Renewing Relationships
This year brings new opportunities to advance reconciliation at PHAC. The release of the Framework adds to the ongoing work at the Agency (e.g., supporting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action and the Permanent Bilateral Mechanisms) to develop more respectful, meaningful and inclusive relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

The Indigenous Policy Team is committed to supporting the Agency in working toward renewing these relationships, focusing on engagement and co-development, cultural competency, and the recognition of the distinct nature and lived experience of First Nations, Inuit and Métis. PHAC is committed to advancing reconciliation, and every employee has a role to play in these efforts.

PHAC's Indigenous Policy Team
indigenous policy team
PHAC's Indigenous Policy Team - Text Equivalent

PHAC's Indigenous Policy Team (From left to right: Sara Lefebvre, Xavier Tremblay, Maria Hamburg, Susan Irwin, Carole Noel, Emily Given and Christine Marshall)

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