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Indigenous strengths-based approaches to healthcare and health professions education – Recognising the value of Elders’ teachings

Andrea Kennedy, Anika Sehgal, Joanna Szabo, Katharine McGowan, Gabrielle Lindstrom, Pamela Roach, Lynden (Lindsay) Crowshoe and Cheryl Barnabe

2022 Canada

Background. A strengths-based lens is essential for the pursuit of health equity among Indigenous populations. However, health professionals are often taught and supported in practice via deficit-based approaches that perpetuate inequity for Indigenous peoples. Deficit narratives in healthcare and health education are reproduced through practices and policies that ignore Indigenous strengths, disregard human rights, and reproduce structural inequalities. When strengths are recognised it is possible to build capacities and address challenges, while not losing sight of the structural factors impacting Indigenous peoples’ health. Objective. In this paper, we examine Indigenous strengths-based approaches to policy and practice in healthcare and health professions education when delivered alongside teachings shared by Elders from the Cree, Blackfoot and Métis Nations of Alberta, Canada.
Method. Literature and Elders’ teachings were used to shift strengths-based approaches from Western descriptions of what might be done, to concrete actions aligned with Indigenous ways.
Results. Four pointers for future action adopting a strengths-based approach are identified: enacting gifts – focusing on positive attributes; upholding relationality – centring good relationships; honouring legacy – restoring self-determination; and reconciling truth – attending to structural determinants of health.
Conclusion. Identified directions and actionable strategies offer a promising means to advance Indigenous health equity through strengths-based actions that change existing narratives and advance health equity.

Indigenous, healthcare, health education, Indigenous Elders, strengths-based