Last year, on Canada’s inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I reflected on a conversation that I was fortunate to have with Musqueam Knowledge Keeper Sulksun. As I thought about what to share with our Providence family this year, I reread those powerful words from Sulksun and they still deeply resonate—I still get such meaning from them and I hope that you do too.
September 30th has been observed as Orange Shirt Day since 2013, and will continue to be a time to commemorate the history of residential schools in Canada, and honour the survivors, the ones who did not come home and their families and communities.
However, this day is not just about commemoration, but also about commitment to learning and understanding the truths of Indigenous Peoples in BC and beyond. It is about recognizing that ongoing colonialism is still with us today and shows up in many ways in health care—we can all take anti-colonial and anti-racist actions, in our both personal lives and professional roles.
This is a day where we should reflect on what we can do in both our personal lives and our professional roles—what have you learned, what book did you read, where are you directing your money through donations, what businesses do you support, where do you shop?
As shared last year, I asked Sulksun if he had any thoughts or advice for me on how to communicate with the Providence family about the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. He said that the first thing that came to his mind was the word nuts amaht.
In Coast Salish territory, nuts amaht or nə́c̓aʔmat means, “we are one.” This is a truth, or Natural Law amongst many Indigenous Nations. It recognizes the oneness of all things – that everything and everyone is connected. Recognizing oneness means understanding that everything has a spirit and inherent dignity. Recognizing oneness means that our actions have interconnected impacts to self, other, environment, and future generations.
I’ve spent some time reflecting on Sulksun’s insight in connecting nuts amaht with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. I think that, in many ways, it was a lack of nuts amaht that created the conditions for residential ‘schools’. The lack of seeing everything as ‘one’ enabled the othering of Indigenous Peoples, the seeing of us as ‘less than’. This narrative then enabled the range of oppressive policies, including residential schools, designed to take Indigenous lands and eliminate Indigenous Peoples.
The belief that Indigenous peoples are ‘less than’ is one that continues today, mainly through unconscious bias we have all been socialized to carry. For example, the recent In Plain Sight report identified common stereotypes of Indigenous people in health care, including that we are ‘less capable’. As noted by Justice Murray Sinclair who led the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, a key issue in reconciliation is the “lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours.”
I think that this is starting to change. The ongoing recovery of children’s remains from the grounds of former residential ‘schools’ across this country has met with a significant outpouring of distress and grief across the country accompanied by tangible actions, including creation of a national Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
I recognize nuts amaht in this response. It shows an understanding that it was and is wrong to treat Indigenous Peoples and our children as ‘less than’. It shows an understanding that committing indignity to others undermines our own dignity. It shows an understanding that we are one with the past and the future – we have a responsibility to address injustices of the past in order to create a more equitable future.
I am hopeful that continuing to apply the teaching of nuts amaht in our work at PHC and in our relationships will further create the conditions for justice, restoration and reconciliation. There are measures each of us can take to demonstrate our commitment to nuts amaht – that we are one. This includes:
- Educating ourselves on these issues (extensive list of learning resources compiled by our IWR team are available on PHC Connect here);
- Taking time for reflection and to make personal commitments;
- Participating in community events and/or memorials;
- Contributing to change efforts (including Orange Shirt Day); and,
- Supporting or contributing to Indigenous businesses and communities and/or donating to Indigenous organizations.
I am grateful to Sulksun for prompting this reflection about nuts amaht and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and for the opportunity to share it with the Providence family.
Our Indigenous Wellness and Reconciliation team has grown over the year and we are looking forward to continuing this work alongside each of you, in our shared commitment to truth, justice, reconciliation and culturally-safe care for the Indigenous patients, residents and families we serve.
The IWR team encourages you, our Providence colleagues, to reflect on your commitments to Reconciliation in the comments below. What do you commit to learning this year? How have you embedded Reconciliation into your role at PHC? What does Reconciliation mean to you?