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A Community Healing

February 23, 2012

“It belongs to you,” Jacques Huot told members of Toronto’s Aboriginal community on the evening of January 27 at Anishnawbe Health Toronto (AHT). They had gathered to hear findings from the “Urban Aboriginal Diabetes Research Project Report,” led by AHT with researchers Dr. Lynn Lavallée and Dr. Heather Howard, and commissioned by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN). The project involved 138 participants in 276 separate activities. This was research that was “owned by the community” and “driven by the community,” as Huot, President of the Board of AHT, observed.

The project aimed to gather Aboriginal cultural perspectives about diabetes and barriers to diabetes management. It also sought to identify challenges faced by Aboriginal people living with diabetes in the GTA, and to uncover misconceptions and cultural nuances. The ultimate goal? To impact policy and help improve the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of Aboriginal people with diabetes.

“This is a groundbreaking report,” said Camille Orridge, CEO of the Toronto Central LHIN, which funded the work. The project not only brings attention to an often-hidden community; it is itself a product of that community’s efforts.

James Carpenter, who works as a traditional healer at AHT, introduced the evening with a song, asking the Creator for help. The research results were presented by Dr. Howard and Dr. Lavallée, the co-principal investigators on the project.

One of their key findings? Aboriginal persons with diabetes, living in the GTA, need more holistic and culturally relevant programming that addresses their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Attendees of the knowledge sharing event then went upstairs to look at a display of symbols, artwork, photos, and poems that had been created by some of the participants. The works were the result of Anishnawabe Symbol-Based Reflection (ASBR), an arts-based research method built on the principles of the Anishinaabek (Ojibway, Algonquin peoples). (For more information on this method visit www.ryerson.ca/asbr.) The works represent a spiritual experience that opens the door to expression and healing.

The findings were presented in honour of Brian Marion (1960-2011), a First Nations artist who was actively involved in the project, and passed away only days after attending the last meeting. The final report will be made available after February 24, 2012 at aht.ca.

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