Canadian Medical Association

Better health outcomes for Indigenous Peoples must start with Indigenous voices.

The Canadian Medical Association is convening a Guiding Circle to advance equitable health care in allyship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.

The circle is a significant symbol in many Indigenous cultures. In a working group, it reflects a commitment to giving equal weight to contributions from every member.

The CMA’s Guiding Circle will be comprised of 12 to 14 Indigenous experts and knowledge-keepers who together reflect the diverse and broad perspectives of communities across the country.

Along with three representatives from the CMA — President-Elect Dr. Alika Lafontaine, of Métis, Oji-Cree and Pacific Islander ancestry and based in Alberta, board member Dr. Paula Cashin, a Mi'kmaw physician based in rural Newfoundland, and Strategic Advisor Dr. Sarah Williams, a Michi-Saagiig (Mississauga) Anishnaabeg physician from Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario, who now resides in Victoria, British Columbia, on Coast Salish traditional territory — the Guiding Circle will identify areas of focus for our work on Indigenous health.

“The Guiding Circle is an opportunity to address the historic devaluation, and in many cases outright dismissal, of Indigenous Peoples’ voices regarding their own health care.” — Dr. Alika Lafontaine, CMA president-elect

The Guiding Circle builds on the CMA’s work towards reconciliation. In August 2021, the CMA Board unanimously called for action to:

  • Address the ongoing structural inequities that marginalize First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities;
  • Advance the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in societal systems and sectors, including health systems;
  • Commit to collaborative and respectful relationships with Indigenous patients and communities.

These calls for action are aligned with the recommendations made in the landmark 2015 report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the devastating legacy of Canada’s residential schools.

In all, the commission issued 94 calls to action — eight of them are aimed at wide-ranging transformations to health care, from requiring medical schools to facilitate training on Indigenous issues to recognizing the value of Indigenous healing practices.

“Allyship means listening and taking guidance and direction from Indigenous Peoples. The Guiding Circle achieves this goal as a process that centers the voices of Indigenous Peoples.” — Dr. Paula Cashin, CMA board member for Newfoundland and Labrador

Indigenous health equity is one of seven strategic priorities outlined in Impact 2040, the CMA’s ambitious, long-term vision for change.

The CMA is leading a national movement of physicians who believe in strong and accessible health systems, fostering well-being and diversity in medical culture, and ensuring every person in Canada has equal opportunity to be healthy.

“At the CMA, we are especially aware of the role the medical profession must play in harmonizing relationships with Indigenous Peoples and promoting inclusive health care for all,” said Dr. Katharine Smart, CMA president.

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