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FAQ: Royal College Indigenous health initiative

Why is the Royal College concerned with Indigenous health?

The Royal College’s vision is: “The best health for all. The best care for all.” Grounded in this vision, the Royal College’s 2012-2014 strategic plan identified the need to focus on populations at risk, notably Indigenous Peoples who suffer the worst health status in Canada.

Why is it called Indigenous health and not aboriginal health?

In order to encompass cultural diversities, reflect historical accuracies and respect the peoples our work is intended to benefit — the term “Indigenous” people will be used in place of “Aboriginal” people, First Nations, Inuit and Métis. To borrow from the National Aboriginal Health Organization’s (NAHO) glossary and terms, “indigenous” means "native to the area." In this sense, according to NAHO’s terminology, Aboriginal Peoples are indeed “indigenous” to North America. The term “Indigenous” is gaining acceptance, particularly among Indigenous scholars to recognize the place of Indigenous Peoples in Canada's late-colonial era and implies land tenure.

Indigenous Peoples is also used by the United Nations in its working groups and in its Decade of the World's Indigenous People. It is also a term used extensively by the World Health Organization as evidenced in this quote on the WHO website: “Indigenous populations are communities that live within, or are attached to, geographically distinct traditional habitats or ancestral territories, and who identify themselves as being part of a distinct cultural group, descended from groups present in the area before modern states were created and current borders defined. They generally maintain cultural and social identities, and social, economic, cultural and political institutions, separate from the mainstream or dominant society or culture.”

Also, the term aboriginal is not used consistently throughout the world and the Royal College’s work often extends beyond Canada’s borders. For example, the United States favours the term “Native American.” Further, key organizations, such as the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada, already have adopted the term. In light of these many factors, it was decided to also use “indigenous” in place of aboriginal.

What key initiatives has the Royal College led to raise awareness?

The Royal College Indigenous health fact sheet is a quick resource containing facts about health inequities and disparities in health outcomes of Indigenous communities.

The Royal College Discussion paper on Aboriginal health explores the social determinants of health and the root causes of Indigenous Peoples’ health issues stemming from racism, oppression and government policy in Canada. It also looks at leading practices that serve to mitigate these factors. This document can be a resource for educators, physicians in practice and policy makers.

The Royal College Indigenous Health Advisory Committee recommends actionable measures to improve the health status of all Indigenous Peoples. The committee will advise our CEO on areas consistent with the Royal College’s mission and mandate.

The Royal College Indigenous health values and principles statement is a foundational document for our work. It is based on the 2005 CanMEDS framework and can apply to other communities under threat (e.g., people living in poverty, women facing social and economic challenges, new Canadians or refugees and LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and intersex) persons. It was approved by the Royal College Council and is slated for national distribution to deans of undergraduate and postgraduate medical programs, national specialty societies, other national and provincial health-related organizations, and other stakeholders to raise awareness and promote lifelong education about cultural safety.

What do you plan to do next?

We are planning to establish a conjoint task force with the College of Family Physicians of Canada looking at educational measures for postgraduate medical education, continuing professional development, and policy and practice advancement. We are also developing practical resources for clinicians including online modules addressing cultural safety and planning for continuing professional development courses in Indigenous health. We also have other initiatives under development for the longer term like advancing medical workforce development for Indigenous providers and entrenching structural racism and oppression as social determinants of health. Read about the proposed directions to move from ideology to action.

Learn more. Get involved.