A new and powerful partnership between Indigenous groups and health care providers has resulted in a historic strategy to address the unique cancer-related challenges facing Indigenous communities in British Columbia.
Improving Indigenous Cancer Journeys: A Road Map is the result of a multi-year partnership between BC Cancer, First Nations Health Authority, Métis Nation British Columbia and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.
The strategy was released by the partners, joined by Health Minister Adrian Dix, and celebrated under the traditional protocols of Squamish and Métis Nation at the Chief Joe Mathias Centre on Squamous Territory.
It follows publication of recent research by BC Cancer and First Nations Health Authority indicating an overall lower incidence of the disease for First Nations People but lower survival rates for most cancers.
"This strategy is a demonstration of our commitment to actions that directly improve the cancer experience for all Indigenous people," said Dr. Malcolm Moore, President of BC Cancer. "From prevention through treatment and survivorship, we are committed to continuing collaboration that improves the cancer journey for Indigenous cancer patients, for their families and their communities."
"Our systems-wide response to improve the First Nations cancer journey must include working with communities to help prevent cancer before it starts; increasing access to colon, cervical and breast cancer screening; promoting cultural safety and humility in cancer care services; supporting First Nations cancer survivorship and end-of-life journeys; improving knowledge on the First Nations cancer journey; and nurturing partnerships between First Nations communities, the FNHA, and health system partners," said Joe Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer of FNHA.
Only the second of its kind in the country, its priorities are in line with the calls to action for health by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
"This strategy is among the newest of its kind, and a crucial step in addressing cancer survival disparities among Indigenous people in British Columbia," said Honourable Adrian Dix, Health Minister for British Columbia. "When we understand and address the cultural barriers experienced by Indigenous people, the health system can provide preventative care, culturally respectful treatment and be a true partner in saving lives."
The strategy addresses all aspects of cancer, from prevention through to survivorship with a focus on delivering culturally safe cancer care. Specifically, its six priority areas include:
- developing partnerships between the health system and Indigenous communities;
- working with Indigenous communities to help prevent cancer before it starts;
- increasing access and participation in colon, cervical and breast cancer screening;
- promoting cultural safety and humility in cancer care services;
- supporting Indigenous cancer survivorship and end-of-life experiences; and
- improving knowledge of Indigenous cancer experiences.
"Today marks an important signal to British Columbia's Indigenous people that, collectively, BC Cancer and our partners have prioritized them," said Preston Guno, Director of Indigenous Cancer Care at BC Cancer. "The Indigenous Cancer Strategy outlines a road map to addressing the growing concerns of cancer within Indigenous communities."
BC Cancer has implemented several changes in line with recommendations within the strategy, including providing training for staff and physicians on culturally safe care, hiring more Indigenous staff, introducing policies that help integrate traditional wellness into a complete care regimen and creating spaces that accommodate for the use of traditional ceremonies and medicine. Earlier this year, BC Cancer also introduced Indigenous art at all of its six regional Centres and is now working to develop navigation systems specific to Indigenous patients.
"When it comes to cancer, knowledge is power. Everyone needs a treatment strategy that suits their disease and their physical and spiritual needs. Yet our communities are used to being disempowered and to losing battles. The Indigenous Cancer Strategy has the ability to turn that around," said Johnna Sparrow, former BC Cancer patient. "This strategy can create a culture of empowerment for Indigenous people to not only survive cancer but to thrive against cancer."