'There must be transformation' in Ontario's medical system, said Dr. Karen Hill

·3 min read

This is part one of a two-part series on the need for a national holistic health model including Indigenous and holistic practitioners.

Doug Ford has called for “a Team Canada approach” to battle Canadian health-care afflictions. Indigenous medical doctors and holistic health practitioners wait to be called off the bench as first-line players on Team Canada.

“We must stop trying to fix people and listen. It is human care not health care,” said Dr. Karen Hill.

Hill, Mohawk, turtle clan, and primary needs physician from Six Nations, knows the Ministry of Health will never fully meet the needs of all people until the system is rebuilt and has a mindset change.

Hill’s vision came to life after first working as a nurse on Six Nations, and seeing gaps in services, and the need for a holistic health approach for the people of her community.

In 2012, she opened Juddah’s Place — meaning grandma in the Cayuga language — one of Canada’s only private practice settings, where western medicine meets traditional holistic practices.

Hill worked with traditional medicine practitioners, learning the medicinal use of traditional medicines and incorporating an integrated holistic health and wellness approach. It was overwhelmingly successful.

Hill is rooted in the belief that “the current crumbling health-care system must change to serve the people, in ways the people need help.”

Part of colonization was the loss of self and identity, Hill said.

“Over and over again, we have been told we don’t know who we are, given shame for being born in Indigenous bodies with Indigenous knowledge,” she said.

In 2006, Hill travelled to the jungles of the Amazon to observe and work with a culture untouched by the western world, witnessing, traditional healers, using herbs and plants to cauterize umbilical cords.

“Who taught them how to do that? No one; they just knew. There were no books there. No one told them how to heal people, what to do; they just knew,” she said.

Indigenous inherent knowledge, and traditional healing medicines have existed for centuries. Indigenous people lived and survived in healthy communities long before western medicine came along.

“We don’t need permission to do what we need to do for our people. How did our people know that giving cedar tea to the European settlers would heal their need for vitamins?” said Hill.

Many cultures have used a holistic approach to health. This is not a new concept; however, mainstream Western thinking has not adopted this vision.

“The current paternalistic system uses the problem, solution model, a mindset of ‘fixing,’ instead of listening, and treating the whole person. We must pick up the pieces of what is good,” said Hill.

Hill believes there was no system and there still is no system of primary health care for Indigenous people.

“There must be transformation, starting with a change of mind, to a change of heart,” she said.

Holistic medicine means developing trust and treating the connection between self and spirit. Health care is not simply handing out prescriptions and medicating with pills. It cannot be feeding the coffers of the pharmaceutical companies from the hands of the sick and dying.

Hill is driven and passionate, but at times feels like Moses walking in the desert looking for the promised land.

“Someone has to walk this desert. If it has to be me, I will do it," said Hill.

COVID-19 caused the closing of Juddah’s Place; however, Hill remains committed to Indigenous health and wellness as a community consultant with the Brantford General Hospital.

A “Team Canada” approach to health care means the inclusion of all players. You cannot have a “Team Canada approach” without including Indigenous medical practitioners and holistic health practitioners — without them, there is no Team Canada.

Joyce Jonathan Crone is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter based in Muskoka. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Joyce Jonathan Crone, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Parry Sound North Star