Joint Submission seeks clarification on “Aboriginal right” to use indigenous medicine

BRANTFORD – A joint submission was heard in a Brantford courtroom Friday, seeking clarification on Justice Gethin Edwards ruling which declared utilizing Ongwehonwe Onongwatri:yo (indigenous medicines) an “Aboriginal right”.

Edwards ruling came after a lengthy application from McMaster Children’s Hospital which sought the courts intervention when a Six Nations family removed their daughter from chemotherapy to pursue Onongwatri:yo exclusively to treat the child’s condition.

After leaving the hospital the child was treated exclusively with indigenous medicines and alternative therapy. Preliminary blood work showed no visible signs of cancer.

The family connected with doctors at a different Ontario children’s hospital for follow-up care. It was during that care that a bone marrow biopsy revealed minimal traces of the disease still in her system. Soon afterward a relapse was diagnosed and the family and child together decided she would enter chemotherapy at this institution to treat the relapse.

Brant Family and Child Services submitted to Edwards that since his ruling they have continued to work with the child’s family. Workers submitted an official statement to share that the child’s mother had been willingly working with them since the investigation began to share details of the plan of care, medical visits, blood work and other specific details relative to her daughter’s medical care.

Justice Edwards read the following clarifications on his ruling to the court:

“The Aboriginal right to use traditional medicine must be respected, and must be considered, among other factors, in any analysis of the best interests of the child, and whether the child is in need of protection. Taking into account the Aboriginal right, and the constitutional objective of reconciliation and considering carefully the facts of this case, I concluded that this child was not in need of protection.”

He also further clarified that “…the Haudenosaunee have both an Aboriginal right to use their own traditional medicines and health practices, and the same right as other people in Ontario.” And that this “provides Haudenosaunee culture and knowledge with protection, but it also gives the people unique access to the best we have to offer.”

Gethin read that for the Haudenosaunee this ruling “fulfills the aspirations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states in article 24, that “Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices… Indigenous individuals also have the right to access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services.”

The province of Ontario released a Joint Statement with Six Nations, and the family of J.J. saying they hope the clarification can assist the health care system provide better care to other First Nations families who choose to utilize indigenous medicines in treating members of their families.

The statement reads:

“All parties to a proceeding dealing with the treatment of an 11 year old girl known as “J.J.” from the Six Nations of the Grand River, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, appeared before Justice Edward to seek clarification on his reasons for the decision dated November 14, 2014.

“Justice Edward released an addendum to his decision that recognizes that Haudenosaunee medicine is an integral aspect of the Haudenosaunee identity as a people. As such, it has the protection of the Canadian constitution as an Aboriginal right.

“Justice Edward’s addendum further clarifies that the best interests of the child are paramount and that the Aboriginal right to practice traditional medicine must be respected. The practice of this right can and may work together with other approaches to health care.

“This clarification now allows the family to proceed, with peace of mind and privacy, with their daughter’s treatment, using the best that both medicines have to offer. The clarification also enables and encourages governments, agencies, hospitals and health care practitioners to continue important conversations about an integrated approach to health care, one that respects and can bring together different healing traditions.”

The statement is an encouraging step toward reconciliation and healing between health care providers and the First Nations populations surrounding Six Nations of the Grand River and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. Both communities are supporting families in the area who pursue Onongwatri:yo in lieu of chemotherapy.

McMaster Children’s Hospital president Peter Fitzgerald also released a statement via email which reads:

“McMaster Children’s Hospital supports Justice Edward’s clarification of his decision, which confirms that the best interests of the child remain paramount and that Haudenosaunee and non-Indigenous medicine systems can and may work together. We have always supported this family’s decision to use traditional aboriginal healing practices in conjunction with conventional medical treatment.

“In bringing this application last fall, McMaster Children’s Hospital, its leaders, physicians and staff, were at all times focused only on JJ’s best interests. Our motivation has always been and remains that this child receive life-saving chemotherapy in a timely manner.

Following Justice Edward’s decision in November, McMaster Children’s Hospital decided to not launch an appeal. It was never the hospital’s intention to involve itself in challenging the constitutional rights of aboriginal people. McMaster Children’s Hospital ensured that its lines of communication remained open with the Government of Ontario and fully supported and participated in keeping the conversation open, leading to this resolution.

“McMaster Children’s Hospital also continued its efforts to reach out to and work collaboratively with the aboriginal community, including supporting integrative medical care for aboriginal patients and families.

We continue to wish JJ a full recovery and sincerely hope for the best for her and her family.”


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