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Medical Matters: Truth and Reconciliation

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Indigenous Health, September Messenger 2023 | Posted September 14, 2023
On our journey of unlearning, listening, learning and acting, CPSA is taking time to remember the survivors of Canada’s residential school system and the countless children who did not make it home as we look ahead to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.

This month, we are honoured to share a message from Cree Elder Dr. Grandmother Doreen Spence. A leader, healer and mentor to many across the world, Dr. Grandmother Doreen is also the heart of the Indigenous Advisory Circle that guides CPSA on fulfilling our mandate of protecting patients, which includes addressing the healthcare inequities Indigenous people continue to face.

Dr. Grandmother Doreen’s reflections & messages for Alberta physicians 

Dr. Grandmother Doreen became one of the first Indigenous licensed nurses in Canada in the 1950s. Here, she reflects on what she overcame on her educational journey.

Dr. Grandmother Doreen witnessed the impacts of racism on Indigenous patients over her three decades as a nurse, and advocated for culturally safe and equitable care throughout her nursing career and beyond.

Mount Royal University calls Dr. Grandmother Doreen a model of reconciliation and resilience. Learn what reconciliation and resilience mean to her.

As a mentor to up-and-coming healthcare providers, Dr. Grandmother Doreen often provides guidance on listening with your whole heart. Here, she advises physicians on how to take this approach with their patients.

It is our collective responsibility to learn from the past so we can move towards a more equitable future. Doctor Grandmother Doreen calls on each of us to take action towards reconciliation.

About Dr. Grandmother Doreen Spence

Known as Doctor Grandmother to many, Doreen Spence is a Cree Elder who was born and raised on the Good Fish Lake Reservation. She is also a member of the Saddle Lake Nation as her father was from Saddle Lake.

Grandmother Doreen retired from nursing after having spent many years nursing in active treatment hospitals. Currently, she is an active Elder in Residence with the Cumming School of Medicine’s Indigenous, Local and Global Health Office, working to build reconciliatory education for nursing students, faculty and staff at the Faculty of Nursing in the University of Calgary. She also mentors students and staff in the Indigenous Primary Health Care and Policy Research Network and at Mount Royal University.

Healing and wellness are her life-long legacy, and she is honoured to have been recognized by so many for doing what she is so passionate about. Some of the ways that Grandmother has been recognized are:

  • Order of Canada (2022)
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws (2022)
  • Honorary Bachelor of Nursing (2017)
  • Indspire Culture and Spirituality Award (2017)
  • Alberta Centennial Medal (2005)
  • Nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize
  • YWCA Woman of Distinction Award (1999)
  • Council on Adoptable Children, New York (1997)
  • Alberta Human Rights Award (1993)
  • Chief David Crowchild Memorial Award (1992)

3 Responses

  1. Chantelle Dick says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us, Dr. Grandmother!

  2. Ruth Webster says:

    Dr. Grandmother, you are indeed an inspiration. Your courage and tenacity to stand up for what you truly believed in despite the adversity, and even cruelty are indeed rare. You have sewn seeds of reconciliation and I will do my utmost as a white person to honour your people, all our people, all our relations, and the environment

  3. Mika Hemphill says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and helping us find a better path forward.