National Chief Opens FMF 2013

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Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief to the Assembly of First Nations, inspired family physicians, medical students and residents as he helped kickstart the opening of Family Medicine Forum 2013 on November 7, 2013. Chief Atleo, a Hereditary Chief from the Ahousaht First Nation, told the story of how in September 75,000 individuals marched in Vancouver in the first Reconciliation Walk to renew relations between First Nations and the rest of Canada. Bernice King, daughter of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, spoke before the walk. “She said we wish we would have had a truth and reconciliation commission about the civil rights movement issues, but Canada you have one, you need to grasp this moment for social change, for economic justice, for better health for First Nations,” explained Atleo.

“It’s an important moment that we’re in,” he said in an interview. “We are in a moment that’s not characterized by one conference, one speech, by one week, one month or one year. This moment is really a moment of reflection for the country, for First Nations as well, about the relationships that we have and really to gain inspiration from our collective ancestors who forged Treaty at the time of the Proclamation. It’s about mutual respect and mutual recognition that we have to share the land and the resources. That means with things like good health it will mean sharing in the wealth and prosperity. Good health often flows from wealth. Canada is one of the richest [countries] in the world with some of the highest health indicators. Yet First Nations range about 65 on the United Nations human development index. There are challenges around the world and in our backyard, but we’re up to it!

Chief Atleo, recipient of the2013 CFPC/Scotiabank Family Medicine Lectureship award, commended the College of Family Physicians of Canada and Canada’s family physicians for working together with First Nations leaders and patients to improve the health outcomes of First Nations individuals and communities.

“Chief Atleo is a remarkable speaker,” said CFPC President Marie-Dominique Beaulieu. “His address made me realize as a family physician and as a leader that we really need to help family physicians to truly understand the needs of First Nations patients. … We need to get it right.”

“The College needs to work with First Nations to help, to advocate and to train family physicians,” added Dr Beaulieu. She suggested that it is important that every family physician receive an understanding of First Nations’ history, trauma, and issues as part of their training.

FMF 2013 attendees gave Chief Atleo a standing ovation at the end of his motivating, thought-provoking and passionate address on Aboriginal Health and the social determinants of health in Canada.

By Barb Kermode-Scott