A prescription for Good Medicine

by James Pepler

The College of Medicine and the School of Physical Therapy can confidently say they are leaders in Aboriginal health programs, education, and services. Looking at their long list of Aboriginal initiatives it’s hard to disagree. Initiatives such as pre-health studies, application to graduation through recruitment, mentorships, and awards help Aboriginal people throughout their university career. All of this is done in the name of miyo-maskihkiy, which stands for ‘good medicine’ in Plains Cree, and is a crucial part of Aboriginal engagement for the college. But there is much more to it.

Val Arnault-Pelletier, the Aboriginal coordinator in the College of Medicine and the School of Physical Therapy explains that ‘good medicine’ is “all about building community and building relationships, not only with Aboriginal students, but with non-Aboriginal students, and creating opportunities for some teaching.” She is quick to add these relationships also build the “idea of reciprocal learning,” both the student and the community each benefiting from the other’s presence.

In late October, the College of Medicine practiced ‘good medicine’ by setting up a pow wow health booth at the 2012 “Spirit of Our Nations” Cultural Celebration & Pow Wow. Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal medical students volunteered at the booth. “They made connections with community and got to see the strength and resiliency of our people, the celebration of culture, the celebration of dance,” said Val with a big smile.

The student volunteers were even given an overview of what to expect at the event and some cultural background information, a Pow Wow 101, to help them better understand the celebration. Their presence allowed for people from Aboriginal communities to see these volunteers as role models and engage with them.

Building community also means increasing the visibility of Aboriginal culture on campus. The College of Medicine’s Office of the Aboriginal Coordinator works with the College of Nursing and the Gwenna Moss Centre to put on the wāskamisiwin lecture series. These lectures allow the university community to learn about the historical roots of contemporary social relations among Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Moving into the university’s Third Integrated Plan, Val and her colleagues are excited about maintaining the momentum of the College of Medicine’s many Aboriginal initiatives, but also in creating new ones. She has been exploring how medicine students and health practitioners build rapport with their patients from Aboriginal communities. The idea of lunch hour language circles will help staff and students know when to greet with “tansi” in Cree or “edlante” in Dene depending on the background of their patient.

The College of Medicine and the school of Physical Therapy have a big foot in the door when it comes to offering Aboriginal initiatives. Strengthening existing and building new relationships between colleges and the Aboriginal community is ‘good medicine’ for anyone who takes it.