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Health and Healing: Her Excellency Sharon Johnston hosts a Roundtable Dialogue on Aboriginal Health with Canada’s Nurses at Rideau Hall

Ottawa, March 27, 2012 – A roundtable hosted by Her Excellency Sharon Johnston, C.C., in partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and its National Expert Commission, will put a spotlight on aboriginal health issues today.

The CNA and the Commission accepted Mrs. Johnston’s invitation to gather leaders in Canada’s aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities, including experts in the field of nursing, medicine, midwifery, health policy, health care administration, science and government. The Governor General of Canada, the Right Honourable David Johnston, will provide opening remarks during the roundtable entitled Taking Action to Improve the Health and Healing of First Nations, Inuit and Métis People, Families and Communities.As the Commission enters the last few months of its mandate, this prestigious event provides a pivotal opportunity for Commissioners to further explore the impact of social, economic and environmental determinants on the health and well-being of Canadians and, in this case, Aboriginal Canadians. When the Commission reports in June, it plans to recommend ways to optimize nursing contributions to a health-care system that is being transformed by funding limitations, new research evidence and technologies, the changing roles of health-care professionals and the demands of Canadians. Today’s focus on aboriginal health will consolidate the Commission’s thinking about possible care delivery and public policy alternatives, and other potential nursing solutions/innovations to address the needs of this population.

“Despite great strengths as people and communities, across most common measures the health and social outcomes for Aboriginal people compare unfavourably, sometimes shockingly so, with those of the general Canadian population,” said Commission Co-Chair, Maureen McTeer. “The broad determinants of health – income, poverty, education, race, and other variables such as access to a job, clean water, and food security – have a much greater impact on our health than even the most well-organized, quality health-care system.”

“The Commissioners share a deep concern about the health and social status of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, especially the lives of children, parents and families,” says Commission Co-Chair, Marlene Smadu, herself a nurse educator from Saskatchewan where aboriginal health issues are top of mind. “We are keenly aware of the deep emotional and spiritual pain being experienced in aboriginal communities and their historical origins. We are coming to understand that these sources of pain are deeply interwoven with current health outcomes.”

The roundtable discussion will also allow participants to focus on issues such as chronic disease management, and potential actions by nurses and the nursing profession that could strengthen and support Aboriginal children, parents and families.

“Health in aboriginal communities is about balance between mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health,” said Julie Lys, one of the Commissioners and a nurse practitioner who personally delivers health-care services in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. “Our current health-care system addresses physical and some mental health. But without understanding and addressing the core issues that affect all of these areas, we will not effectively be able to re-establish balance and improve the health status of Aboriginal people.”

Commissioners will highlight the interventions and ideas proposed by roundtable participants via Twitter (@NtlCommission) throughout the day. The Commission will also post a synopsis of the day’s discussions on its web site on Wednesday, March 28. A list of roundtable participants will also be posted at

In preparing its report, the Commission has adopted the “triple aim” framework developed by the Institute for Health Improvement that focuses on the themes of Better Health, Better Care and Better Value. This approach is being used effectively around the world because it addresses the three dimensions of care: the health of the population, the experience of care for individuals within the population, and the per capita cost of providing that care. The Commission will also add a Best Nursing component to their report.

Nurses represent the biggest professional group in Canada’s health-care system with 268,000 registered nurses working directly with individuals, families and communities in a wide variety of settings, and providing care in diverse locales and across the lifespan and continuum of care. Nurses and nurse practitioners play an especially pivotal role in the delivery of care to Aboriginal people living on reserves and in remote locations across Canada.

After extensive consultations with nurses and Canadians about the future of health care, the Commission is beginning to focus on the development of its final recommendations. The Commission will table its final report in the context of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) annual meeting and biennial convention in Vancouver in June 2012.


For more information:

Lisa Robertson
(613) 739-7032
[email protected]

Susan Wright
(613) 730-2020
[email protected]

“Video: Commissioner Julie Lys talks about the use of interdisciplinary, collaborative health teams in northern communities.”

“Video: Commissioner Julie Lys confirms that health-care providers see the impact of social and economic determinants on the health of Aboriginal populations every day.”

“Video: Commissioner Julie Lys is also a nurse practitioner and she knows from first-hand experience that nurse-led innovations offer real solutions in terms of the delivery of health services in remote and northern communities.”