Hamilton launches its first Indigenous health strategy

Hamilton City Council approved its first Indigenous health strategy last week, which aims to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous individuals in the city and reduce health disparities.

“The Indigenous view of health and healing is wholistic, encompassing physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being,” said Medical Officer of Health Elizabeth Richardson. “We are committed to working in partnership with Hamilton’s Indigenous community to ensure their needs are met and they have equitable access to safe and culturally appropriate services.”

An Aug. 23 release stated Hamilton Public Health Services (HPHS) engaged in a comprehensive and collaborative process with Indigenous leaders and community members in Hamilton throughout the approval process. Interviews with leaders of Indigenous organizations and a survey for Indigenous community members were conducted.

Results identified many opportunities for growth in health services, including traditional healing and wellness, mental health supports, access to housing, connection to land and ceremony space, diabetes teachings and support, and community and cultural programming. The results also underscored the importance of self-determination and cultural safety in all services provided by HPHS.

The recommendations were organized into themes including — relationship building, communication, staffing and governance, collaboration and co-development, equitable and safe services, resources, advocacy and access to Indigenous traditional knowledge and practices.

In 2019, an Indigenous health strategy specialist was hired to support this work and will also assist with the recommendations and implementation of the strategy. According to the release, they will play a key role in strengthening relationships with the Indigenous community while continuing to collaborate and co-ordinate with Hamilton’s Indigenous relations team.

Interviews with Indigenous leaders took place from Aug. 2019 to Feb. 2020, with a follow-up in September 2020 to ask respondents to review responses and provide feedback on how COVID-19 had impacted their communities since their initial interview. A community survey was also made available from June 2022 to Dec. 2022.

Some immediate next steps based on the recommendations will include providing ongoing Indigenous cultural safety education for staff, increasing Indigenous representation within HPHS, and establishing an Indigenous health governance circle to guide Indigenous health initiatives.

“I wish to thank the Indigenous community members who contributed to developing Hamilton’s first Indigenous health strategy,” said Mayor Andrea Horwath. “Our continued commitment to fostering an inclusive and equitable healthcare environment that respects and supports Indigenous cultures and traditions is demonstrated through this strategy. The health and well-being of all Hamiltonians remains a priority for me and my council colleagues.”

A detailed implementation plan of the strategy will be completed and presented to council at the end of 2024 to allow for engagement, consultation and collaboration with the Indigenous community and leaders.

The Indigenous health strategy was developed based on the principles outlined in the 2018 Ontario Public Health Standards Relationship with Indigenous Communities Guideline.

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