Responding to the Call: NCMC Incorporates Indigenous Knowledge Systems to Strengthen Primary Care

The Workplace Integrated Demonstration Projects (WID), launched by the Foundation for Advancing Family Medicine, were grant initiatives designed to strengthen the comprehensive primary care workforce through training, mentorship, and coaching. These projects aimed to expand interprofessional teams, enhance primary care practices, and develop curricula to improve the delivery of comprehensive care.

The Northern Connections Medical Centre (NCMC) is an established teaching facility that offers interprofessional team-based medical care through the University of Manitoba’s Department of Medicine’s Residency Program and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.  

The team is comprised of family physicians, medical research practitioners, registered nurses, a registered dietitian, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, mental health counsellors, traditional Elders, a knowledge keeper, and primary care assistants. The NCMC serves Manitoba’s northern populations, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities temporarily living in or visiting Winnipeg. 

The NCMC’s ‘Responding to the Call: Centering Indigenous Knowledge Systems to Strengthen Comprehensive Primary Care’ project focuses on incorporating Indigenous knowledge systems within the primary care team model. This includes educating the clinical team, residents, and other medical learners to better understand the history, culture, and perspectives of the First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities they serve. Equipping the primary care team and learners with this information allows them to provide more culturally appropriate care and treatment.  

The group’s first step toward embedding Indigenous ways of knowing and healing into the primary care team was to hire several new team members including an Indigenous mental health counsellor, traditional Elder, and knowledge keeper. Once the roles of the latest members were defined, the group had to overcome the challenge of integrating the Elder and knowledge keeper’s work into a Western-based health care model.   

One positive initiative from the project was the ‘Day on the Land,’ where the entire clinic team drove to a First Nations community north of Winnipeg to engage in a team-building activity. The community’s Elder, knowledge keeper, and community members shared wellness teachings from a traditional and community lens, giving further insight, understanding, and appreciation to the importance of Indigenous knowledge and wellness. This is an example of how the clinic works toward a sense of “structural competency,” gaining a deeper understanding of how patients, populations and health systems are influenced by ‘upstream’ social determinants of health. 

This project was possible thanks to the Workplace Integrated Demonstration (WID) Projects Grant. Generously funded by Employment and Social Development Canada, the Foundation for Advancing Family Medicine’s WID Projects Grant has supported projects like the NCMC’s ‘Responding to the Call’ to expand their existing primary care practice and add interdisciplinary health professionals to deliver comprehensive primary care. This funding has enabled the NCMC to build partnerships between their team and local Indigenous communities, demonstrating the team’s commitment to truth and reconciliation. The NCMC continues to integrate Indigenous ways of knowing and healing practices to improve patient experiences.