Twenty years after a team of Indigenous social workers and an Elder formed CAMH’s first team to support the unique needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis patients, CAMH is officially launching Shkaabe Makwa – a unique and integrated Centre that aims to transform health outcomes through the advancement of research, training and innovative healing models that harmonize traditional knowledge and medical expertise.
“Since those formative years, we’ve worked to improve access to traditional Indigenous healing practices as part of services and programs at CAMH and beyond,” says Dr. Catherine Zahn, CAMH President and CEO. “A wonderful articulation of this work was the launch of Ceremony Grounds and Sweat Lodge on the CAMH campus in 2016”.
Shkaabe Makwa translates to “Spirit Bear Helper” in the Anishinaabe language. “For some of us, we acknowledge the Bear as medicine, and others as a knowledge keeper, protector and healer,” explains Renee Linklater, Senior Director of Shkaabe Makwa. “We believe that culture is central to healing and wellness – and we are committed to bringing about change in ways that respect and honour traditional knowledge and community expertise.”
Dr. James Makokis, a nehiyô (Plains Cree), Two-Spirit physician from Saddle Lake Cree Nation will serve as the first Medical Director for Shkaabe Makwa. “I am excited about the opportunity to focus on our own Indigenous ceremonies, our own Indigenous medicine and our own Indigenous thought – as we work on infusing all of these components into what is done at the Centre - especially as it relates to research and making research responsive to the needs of our people,” says Dr. Makokis.
As part of Shkaabe Makwa’s commitment to promote health system transformation grounded in First Nations, Inuit and Métis knowledge and expertise, they have formed a new Leadership Circle of Indigenous leaders and experts in mental health and wellness. The Leadership Circle will help guide the work of Shkaabe Makwa and provide strategic advice on the needs of the healthcare system.
“As a new member of the Leadership Circle of Shkaabe Makwa, I look forward to joining my colleagues in supporting culture as the foundation – the culture of First Nations, Inuit and Métis People – to increase access to meaningful services and to ensure that they are available where they are needed,“ says Carol Hopkins, Executive Director, Thunderbird Partnership Foundation.
ECHO Ontario First Nations, Inuit and Métis Wellness is one early example of Shkaabe Makwa’s collaborative leadership, led in partnership with the ECHO Ontario Mental Health program at CAMH. This video-conferencing program gathers Ontario-based health care providers who support Indigenous patients to learn and problem-solve together, promoting an integrated approach to health and wellness that values medical and Indigenous knowledge. To date, 171 participants from 82 sites across Ontario, largely in the North as well as remote areas, have participated in this virtual community of practice.
About The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
CAMH is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please follow @CAMHnews on Twitter.