After receiving unanimous approval, the department becomes the first medical education department in Canada to adopt Joyce’s Principle for fair and equal healthcare

On September 12, 2023, during the Executive Council Meeting of McGill University’s Department of Family Medicine, a motion to adopt Joyce’s Principles for fair and equal healthcare received unanimous approval, making the department the first medical education department in Canada to do so. That same day, the Collège des médecins du Québec called on the government to recognize systemic racism and to take Indigenous perspectives into account in the development of Bill 32, which aims to “establish the cultural safety approach within the health and social services network.” The vote also comes shortly after assertions from Indigenous leaders and health professionals that Quebec’s Indigenous cultural awareness training fails to improve cultural safety and poses safety risks to Indigenous Peoples.

“Within the last three years since Joyce left this earth, her family has worked tirelessly to protect our families to prevent this from happening to another relative. That is what Joyce’s Principle means to me; the protection of our relatives. Building trust within these systems takes a collaborative effort, taking responsibility for their role in healing, while preventing further perpetuation of systemic violence within health care.”

Konwahahawi (Sarah) RourkePhD

Director of the Indigenous Health Professions Program (IHPP)

Joyce’s Principle aims to guarantee to all Indigenous people the right of equitable access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services, as well as the right to enjoy the best possible physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Joyce’s Principle requires the recognition and respect of Indigenous people’s traditional and living knowledge in all aspects of health. The death of Joyce Echaquan, which occurred in abject circumstances on September 28, 2020, at the Joliette Hospital Center in Lanaudière, Quebec, near the Atikamekw community of Manawan, sparked the proceedings that led to the presentation of Joyce’s Principle.

Spirit of Acknowledgement

“We have already started this spirit of acknowledgement here at the Department. The ice has been broken,” said Alex McComber, Kanien’keha:ka, Assistant Professor at the Department of Family Medicine, who presented the proposal to adopt Joyce’s Principle. “Let us continue the relationship between Indigenous peoples and teaching institutions.”

The Department of Family Medicine has already made great strides in educating physicians and health professionals about cultural safety. With the recent hiring of Amy Shawanda, Odawa Kwe, a tenure-track Assistant Professor and Indigenous Scholar, the department is fulfilling some of the University Provost’s call out to the faculties for proposals for specifically Indigenous hires. With a background in Law and Justice and Indigenous Studies, the department is tremendously grateful to benefit from Professor Shawanda and her specialized knowledge of Indigenous ways of being, doing, knowing and reclaiming.

The department also offers a variety of courses for graduate students relating to cultural safety and Indigenous health:

  • Indigenous Perspectives Decolonizing Health Research: taught by Professor Alex McComber, this course explores the nature of Indigenous peoples’ ways of understanding the world, with a special focus on health and wellness. It reviews the Canadian history of colonization, assimilation and genocide as well as the outcomes and impacts through the lens of Indigenous peoples.
  • Inuit Health in the Canadian Contexttaught by Richard Budgell, Inuk Assistant Professor, this course explores the histories, perspectives, and contemporary realities of Inuit health in the four regions of Inuit Nunangat (the Inuit homeland) with a particular focus on the Nunavik region of northern Quebec. It is the first-ever Inuit-focused health course in a Canadian university.

Last year, the Department of Family Medicine created a new Indigenous space, dedicated to activities around Indigenous health and community outreach within the health sector, the first of its kind at McGill.

“We want this space to create a focus on integrating Indigenous ways of knowing into the Western academic world,” says Marion Dove, MD, Chair of the Department of Family Medicine. “We want it to be a place to maintain Indigenous traditions through a program that will include kitchen table conversations, fireside chats, storytelling, and films.”

Also, earlier this year, and in collaboration with the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, the department launched its first Winter Indigenous Speakers Series with the aim of bringing diverse Indigenous voices to campus.