Sask. Métis government seeks to bridge the divide between western and Indigenous medicines

The provincial cancer prevention institute and cancer agency will soon share health data that will help address shortcomings in the treatment of Métis cancer patients

Métis Nation Government of Saskatchewan Minister of Health Marg Friesen. Photo courtesy of MN-S

Métis Nation Government of Saskatchewan Health Minister Marg Friesen said she wants citizens experiencing cancer to have “appropriate, culturally responsive service” that addresses Métis people‘s experiences with cancer and better meets their needs.

The provincial cancer prevention institute and cancer agency will soon share health data that they hope will help address shortcomings in the treatment of Métis cancer patients.

“We’re right in the process of developing a data sharing and data collection agreement with those two agencies. This is the first time ever that this has happened,” Friesen said.

“What we would like to see is specific data on Métis cancer patients, where we can then provide enhanced services based on cultural identity.”

The Saskatchewan Cancer Agency (SCA) and the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan (MN–S) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) last week with the goal to build a Métis-specific cancer strategy that addresses health equity in Saskatchewan.

She said the new agreement means accessing that important health data is one step closer to reality.

“Now we’re at a place where we want to really make a difference with the service delivery,” Friesen said.

“It’s just a matter of time before we’re able to say (for example) that we have X amount of males over the age of 55, who are now being treated for colon cancer or prostate cancer.”

The SCA is a provincial healthcare organization that operates prevention and early detection programs, conducts research and provides patient and family-centred care.

Friesen said MN–S and the SCA have also been working with the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, a federally funded non-profit, to develop a stronger relationship.

“The Saskatchewan Cancer Agency is committed to moving forward with the Métis Nation to identify, understand and address the barriers that contribute to health inequities for Métis people in this province,” SCA president and CEO Jon Tonita said.

MN–S has a cancer transportation program for citizens from anywhere in the province who need help getting to and from medical appointments in city centres like Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina, with accommodations and a budget for food.

But once there, Friesen said some patients, especially from the far north, can feel out of touch. That can impact their health while staying outside their communities for treatment, she said.

“It’s respecting the place in which the individual comes from. For example, if they are a traditional person and live a traditional life, and let’s say they come from the far north, perhaps English is not their first language. We would hope that there would be accommodations made for translation into their first language so that they fully understand the treatment that they’re receiving,” Friesen said.

“We’re looking for a more appropriate way to address the needs of Métis citizens — not only language but also their identity. We’ve also discussed things like cultural traditional foods when you are undergoing treatment in hospital.”

She said many in the far north also rely on traditional Indigenous medicines and healing knowledge and doctors need to “be inclusive and aware” of that.

“We’re actually marrying western ways of medicine and Indigenous ways of medicine, because most likely folks who are connected to the land are accessing those traditional ways of knowing and medicine. Particularly in the communities in the north because it’s been a common practice for centuries, and then those traditions have been passed down for generations.”

She said MN–S encourages people to be screened and to have regular doctor’s appointments so that they can be treated as effectively as possible. Accepting and understanding traditional medicine within a hospital setting would go a long way to improve their experience, she said.

“Some cancers are totally preventable and they’re treatable. And then of course, you get to other cancers that are more terminal, and then you have to prepare the patient for those stages. We want to start talking about cancer and raising awareness on those preventative measures as well. But we want to do that in a culturally appropriate way,” Friesen said.

She said it would be good for doctors to be aware of those traditional medicines so that they can tell if a prescribed medication conflicts with a traditional treatment, too.

“We have to find a balance there,” Friesen said.

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Michael Bramadat-Willcock covers Saskatchewan's north with a focus on natural resources, climate change, mental health, reconciliation and equitable access to health care, education and other services. His work primarily appears in the Northern Advocate. He can be contacted at mbwillcock@paherald.sk.ca. His position was made possible by funding through the Local Journalism Initiative. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L’Initiative de journalisme local est financé par le gouvernement du Canada