McMaster Indigenous Studies speaks against criminalization of using Onongwatri:yo:

A statement was released this week by the Indigenous Studies Program at McMaster University in support of Makayla Sault and her family. Read it here in it’s entirety. 

May 19, 2014

Indigenous Studies Program Statement in Support of Makayla Sault and Family

This is a statement of support for Makayla Sault, her family, and the community that surrounds her. It is of great concern to the Indigenous Studies Program at McMaster University to learn that Makayla’s decision to self-determine the course of her treatment is being not only dismissed because of her age, but also devalued by health care professionals because it is rooted in Indigenous Knowledge. We are deeply troubled to hear that Makayla’s parents have faced intimidation and threats of intervention for their choice to respect the agency of their child, and that these choices have become criminalized. Makayla’s choice to seek out traditional medicine is protected through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and should be supported and honoured. It is entirely inappropriate that her decision has been dismissed, devalued, and characterized as irrelevant and unimportant.

Within Indigenous communities, there has been a long history of the disruption of families and nations due to colonialist federal legislation and racist public policy that has been aggressively enacted and enforced for the “betterment” of Indigenous children (i.e., Residential schools, the “Sixties Scoop”). All of these policies continue to have devastating impacts on our people, our families, and our nations, and have caused immeasurable harm. It is unacceptable that allegations have been made that Ken and Sonya Sault are not providing care for their daughter. These allegations are rooted in the incorrect assumption that Ongwehowe Onongwatri:to is “lesser than” the treatment directives that come from Makayla’s doctors, and point to the pervasive misunderstanding amongst some Western medical professionals around Indigenous conceptions of wellness.

It is our sincere hope that those who do not understand the importance of Makayla’s decision work to achieve a better understanding of the significance of Ongwehowe Onongwatri:to. The Indigenous faculty, staff and students at McMaster have endeavored for many years to address the lack of understanding of Indigenous rights and to create greater awareness of Indigenous knowledge and approaches to health and wellness. The Indigenous Studies Program hopes to continue to open the minds of future policy writers, leaders, educators, and health care practitioners. We are quite aware that this work will be ongoing, and the events of the past three weeks remind us that there is an incredible amount of work that remains to be done. We therefore invite our Indigenous and non-Indigenous colleagues to join with us in this important process.

All of us at the Indigenous Studies Program at McMaster have been humbled to hear of Makayla’s insight and courage, and we sincerely hope that the continued attacks against her right to self-determine are ceased. We wish Makayla continued strength and wellness, and we know that she is supported by not only a loving family, but a loving community as well.


The Indigenous Studies Program, McMaster University


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  1. We learn so much from watching and listening to our children. Wisdom from the uncluttered mind of a child such as Makayla is a gift we should not ignore.

  2. Thank you for this clear statement of support. It ahs been very troubling to hear the dismissive reporting by the media.

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