First Nations Communities and Culture

Williams Lake and 100-Mile House are recognized by the Canadian government as municipalities in British Columbia. Such recognition, however, is marked by a long and ongoing history of colonization. What we call British Columbia is, in fact, the unceded ancestral home of First Nations and other Indigenous groups who occupied these lands for thousands of years.


Important Terminology

The original inhabitants or Indigenous peoples of the lands now known as Canada are the First Nations, Inuit, or Métis, those reported with “Registered or Treaty Indian status” under the Indian Act of Canada (1985), or those who otherwise have membership in a First Nation or Indian Band. Note that “Indian” is a word used only when tied to legal status and legal matters; it is widely considered as outdated and offensive in any other context.

Terminology is important. Some words and terms are imbued with the discriminatory assumptions and practices tied to colonization.

You may also see the umbrella term ‘Aboriginal,’ which is used formally in the Constitution Act (1982) but has waned in favour of the term Indigenous, especially since the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).

While Indigenous individuals may choose to self-identify with any of the aforementioned terms (or others), it is important to be cognizant of the language choices we make as outsiders, to understand the histories of the words we choose, and to respect the preferences of individual Nations and persons.


Regional Context

In Williams Lake, 20% of the population is Indigenous[1], and 15.5% is Indigenous in 100-Mile House[2]; this is compared to 5% of the overall population within British Columbia[3]. Because of the overlapping and conflicting histories of these lands, Indigenous groups do not fit neatly within the geopolitical borders of British Columbia. In BC, there are 198 distinct First Nations[4], and there are several First Nations whose territory overlaps with the catchment area of the Central Interior Rural Division; these include the Tsilhqot'in (formerly the Chilcotin), Secwepemc (formerly the Shuswap), Dakelh (A.K.A. Carrier), and Tse’khene[5]. Indigenous languages of these groups belong to the Athabascan or Dene language family. Within each Nation are several unique bands; several formal governance structures also exist to represent local First Nations and bands.

Tsilhqot’in National Government the Tsilhqot’in National Government was established in 1989 to meet the needs of and represent the Tsilhqot’in communities of Tl’etinqox, ?Esdilagh, Yunesit’in, Tsi Deldel, Tl’esqox and Xeni Gwet’in in order to re-establish a strong political government structure.

Northern Shuswap Tribal Council is a political alliance between four of the seventeen bands that are known as the Secwepemc Nation (which spans both the Cariboo and Thompson Okanagan regions). The four bands comprising the NSTC are: the Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake), Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem (Canoe & Dog Creek), Xat’sūll (Soda & Deep Creek), and T’exelc (Williams Lake a.k.a. Sugar Cane)

Carrier Chilcotin Tribal Council is a political alliance that seeks to build unity and enhance the wellbeing of four central interior communities (Ulkatcho, Lhtako Dene, Toosey, and Kluskus) and their citizens through the delivery of quality programs and services

The Alkali Lake Indian Band, also known as the Esketemc First Nation, is a First Nations government of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) people, located at Alkali Lake in the Cariboo region.


Colonization and its Impact on the Wellness of Indigenous Peoples

Each First Nation or Indigenous group comes with its own unique culture, customs, history, traditional medicines, and relationship with the Western medical system. Some First Nations individuals prefer the use of traditional medicines and methods of prevention in place of, or to supplement, medicines and methods used in Western healthcare. Previous and ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples by Western institutions (such as our healthcare system) has fostered a complicated contemporary relationship. It is worth knowing the history to be able to appreciate the reasons why.

Historical relations between First Nations and Canadian institutions comprise religious evangelism, forced assimilation, racism, eugenic programs of marriage regulation and sterilization, as well as Indian residential schools, Indian hospitals, and resultant trauma. Interlinked with these factors, First Nations populations are overrepresented in certain disease populations, experiencing higher rates of certain chronic/acute illnesses and disease. Understanding the history of the land upon which we stand is an essential first step to providing healthcare to First Nations patients.

The colonial history and contemporary relations with First Nations within the Central Interior Rural Division catchment area is not an isolated occurrence; this process of settlement and colonization took place across the country (in many other countries too) and across many Indigenous nations. While the Canadian government has committed to several actions for reconciliation from a policy standpoint, it is the stance of the Central Interior Rural Division is that individual action and understanding of the historical context is essential to ensure that no portion of our population gets left behind as we move towards developing a healthy and well community. This, especially, is our collective responsibility as professionals working with or within an institution (healthcare) directly complicit in this colonial history.


Suggested reading

There have been numerous books written about the indigenous people from the Cariboo Chilcotin region. Below are book titles of suggested reading from local authors that have shared stories about the pioneers of the Cariboo Chilcotin. These books can be a helpful resource to learn about the indigenous people and their abundant history in the Cariboo Chilcotin. These titles are available online at amazon.ca or once you arrive, these and many other books about the indigenous people and pioneers of the Cariboo - Chilcotin can be found in local bookstores and libraries located in both Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.

Chilcotin Chronicles –Sage Birchwater

A collection of historical stories about the early indigenous people, settlers, trappers, and adventurers of BC Cariboo Chilcotin.

They Called Me Number One – Bev Sellars

Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School

Cariboo Chilcotin Pioneer People & Places – Irene Stangoe

This book is about the history and happenings in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.

 


[1]BC Community Health Profile: Williams Lake. 2017. PHSA.

[2] BC Community Health Profile: 100 Mile House. 2017. PHSA.

[3] Geographic Service Area Profiles 2016: Cariboo-Chilcotin/100 Mile House. April 2016. Ministry of Health.

[4] http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100021009/1314809450456

[5] http://bcafn.ca/community-profiles/?region%5B%5D=cariboo

[6] ibid


Indigenous Cultural Safety Training

The Central Interior Rural Division strongly endorses that all healthcare practitioners undergo training  in Indigenous Cultural Safety.  One program currently being offered is the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety (ICS) Training program.

The program was developed by the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) Aboriginal Health Program. According to the ICS website:

The ICS training is a unique, facilitated on-line training program designed to increase knowledge, enhance self-awareness, and strengthen the skills of those who work both directly and indirectly with Aboriginal people. The goal of the ICS training is to further develop individual competencies and promote positive partnerships. Skilled facilitators guide and support each participant through dynamic and interactive learning modules. Participants will learn about terminology; diversity; aspects of colonial history such as Indian residential schools and Indian Hospitals, time line of historical events; and contexts for understanding social disparities and inequities. Through interactive activities participants examine culture, stereotyping, and the consequences and legacies of colonization. Participants will also be introduced to tools for developing more effective communication and relationship building skills.

The Core Health ICS available online at: http://www.sanyas.ca/training/british-columbia/core-ics-health.

Additional ICS training options are available at: http://www.sanyas.ca/training/british-columbia, including topics of Mental Health and the Rural Education Action Plan.

The Core Health ICS training is accredited for up to 16 Mainpro+ credits (for family physicians) and 8 hours of MAINPORT credits (for specialists), which help you meet your Continuing Medical Education/Continuing Professional Development requirements.