Better Medicine Through a Better Understanding

Nov 14, 2017
Author: 
Liam Mitchell

Getting Ry Moran on the phone is no easy task. The Founding Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is in high demand. When I do reach him, it’s the day after the 3rd Annual Building Reconciliation Forum concluded at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. The forum was titled The Journey Toward a Reconciled Education System and brought together leaders from universities, colleges and Indigenous communities to take action on reconciliation, creating meaningful and lasting institutional change.Ry MoranRy Moran

“It’s been a busy week,” Moran said in an understated tone. “But it’s been very good. We had a lot of a very difficult conversations. But, my job is to encourage difficult conversations.”

Moran will engage the University of Toronto community in some of those challenging discussions on Thursday November 23 when he delivers the 2017 Dr. Marguerite (Peggy) Hill Lecture on Indigenous Health.

In Moran’s talk, entitled Towards A Trauma Informed Understanding Of Reconciliation, he will press the medical profession to recognize its special responsibility to address Indigenous health. This first requires an understanding of the trauma suffered by Indigenous communities in Canada over centuries to understand the underlying causes that can present as different health issues, including mental, physical and spiritual.

“We have a sickness in this county that is born from the experience of colonialization. And it can manifest itself in many different forms. I think medical professionals, who want to be healers, will want to understand the underlying causes of this illness, and not just treat the symptoms,” Moran said.

Among the challenges are higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and heart illness as well as high rates of smoking, alcohol consumption and drug abuse.

“Why are they smoking or drinking more? It’s not because they don’t care about their health. We have heard from survivors that they are using cigarettes as a coping mechanism to deal with stress, or drugs and alcohol as numbing agents to deal with the pain. They are self-medicating,” he says.

Critical to moving forward, Moran believes, is hearing from both survivors and elders.

“They are two sides of the same coin; they represent both truth and reconciliation,” said Moran. “That means listening to the trauma perpetrated on Indigenous peoples, and that is very hard to hear. But we need to sit in our discomfort. But at the same time, we need to hear from our elders, because the state of Indigenous communities now is not what it has always been. There is a millennium of history when Indigenous communities had some of the best health outcomes in the world. We need to de-normalize the current state of Indigenous health and return to the state where we are in balance with the earth.”

Moran is a proud member of the Métis Nation of Manitoba. As the first Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), he’s helping guide the creation of an enduring national treasure — a dynamic Indigenous archive built on integrity, trust and dignity. He came to the Centre directly from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). On the TRC’s behalf, he helped gather nearly 7,000 video/audio-recorded statements of former residential school students and others affected by the residential school system. He was also responsible for gathering the documentary history of the residential school system from more than 20 government departments and nearly 100 church archives – millions of records in all.

“Ry’s experience with the TRC process, and now in his role as the Director of National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, provides him with a unique perspective to identify the trauma that Indigenous Canadians have faced, but also to help us see opportunities for reconciliation,” said Dr. Jason Pennington who, with Dr. Lisa Richardson, serves as co-lead of Indigenous Health Education in the MD Program. “As medical professionals, we must heed the calls of the TRC recommendations and commit ourselves to forging improved relationships with the Indigenous communities we serve,” added Richardson.

The U of T Medical Alumni Association, in partnership with the Faculty of Medicine’s Office of Indigenous Medical Education, will host this lecture from 5 to 6 pm at the Campbell Conference Facility at the Munk School of Global Affairs. The event is now full, but it will be webcast online beginning at 5 pm on November 23. 

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