Sharing Our Wisdom: A Holistic Aboriginal Health Initiative

  • Teresa Howell University of British Columbia
  • Monique Auger University of British Columbia
  • Tonya Gomes Vancouver Coastal Health
  • Francis Lee Brown University of British Columbia
  • Alannah Young Leon University of British Columbia
Keywords: Traditional Aboriginal health practices, holistic health, traditional Aboriginal knowledge, health inequity, health outcomes, community-based healing, participatory action research, urban Aboriginal health


Colonization has had a profound effect on Aboriginal people’s health and the deterioration of traditional Aboriginal healthcare systems. Health problems among Aboriginal people are increasing at an alarming pace, while recovery from these problems tends to be poorer than among other Canadians. Aboriginal people residing in urban settings, while maintaining strong cultural orientations, also face challenges in finding mentors, role models, and cultural services, all of which are key determinants of health. Using a participatory action framework, this study focused on understanding and describing Aboriginal traditional healing methods as viable approaches to improve health outcomes in an urban Aboriginal community. This research investigated the following questions: (a) Do traditional Aboriginal health practices provide a more meaningful way of addressing health strategies for Aboriginal people? (b) How does participation in health circles, based on Aboriginal traditional knowledge, impact the health of urban Aboriginal people? Community members who participated in this project emphasized the value of a cultural approach to health and wellness. The project provided a land-based cultural introduction to being of nə́c̓aʔmat tə šxʷqʷeləwən ct (one heart, one mind) and learning ways of respectful listening xwna:mstəm (witness) tə slaχen (medicines) (listen to the medicine), through a series of seven health circles. The circles, developed by Aboriginal knowledge keepers, fostered a healthy sense of identity for participants and demonstrated the ways of cultural belonging and community. Participants acknowledged that attending the health circles improved not only their physical health, but also their mental, emotional, and spiritual health.


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