Navigating Palliative Care within Indigenous Communities through Storytelling and Empathy

Categories: Care and Featured.

“If I were to translate Nav-CARE into our perspective, it [would mean] helping each other” — Cara Basil

June 21st marks National Indigenous Peoples Day and brings together Canadians from all walks of life to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

In celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) is spotlighting member of the Bonaparte First Nation, Cara Basil. Basil is currently completing her Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies: Community Engagement, Social Change and Equity. Her thesis focuses on community-based palliative care in First Nations communities and the feasibility of adapting Nav-CARE to First Nations communities, which has never been done before. In addition, Basil’s research aims to change our collective understanding around palliative care. Rather than thinking it’s for those who are diagnosed at a certain stage of illness, she stresses the importance of thinking about early onset of chronic illnesses and supporting those people to ensure their quality of life nearing end-of-life is the best it can possibly be.

Nav-CARE (Navigation-Connecting, Accessing, Resourcing, and Engaging) is a volunteer navigation program that seeks to improve the quality of life of persons living with declining health and is currently being implemented across Canada. Basil is currently working on integrating Nav-CARE to her community since there are currently no supports in place for palliative care. Communities often struggle because they are remote, and it proves hard to recruit people, especially health care providers, to stay in these areas and offer services across communities.

“With what Nav-CARE represents and the success that it’s had in urban communities and with other populations, perhaps it would be a really great fit in an Indigenous community as well.” — Cara Basil

Naturally, a program like Nav-CARE differs for Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Throughout her role with her Nation, Basil listened to Chiefs, Councillors, and Health Directors to hear their perspectives and understand the needs for community-based palliative care. For her, it’s truly about empowering members of the community by sharing their stories and their voices and allowing them to have full say in what Nav-CARE looks like.

“When it comes to health services and research, Indigenous peoples need to be self-determining—and they are self-determining—and we have to have that approach when working with Indigenous peoples. That was important to me to weave throughout my thesis, to really emphasize that no matter what we’re doing, it’s totally up to [the members of the community] what it’s going to look like in the end.” — Cara Basil

To gather everyone’s thoughts, Basil will be conducting talking circles within the community. They’ll have one female group and one male group of six to eight participants each. Basil’s research is heavily rooted in storytelling. “When our people share something or try to access health care, we’re typically doing so through stories. Sharing lived experiences is so important to have a part of the research, and really everything that we’re doing within health care,” shares Basil. Everybody will be asked to share their stories of accessing health care within community or navigating through their own experiences with severe chronic illness or supporting those in their family who struggle with illness. Then, they will be introduced to Nav-CARE and will be able to envision what a community-based model of navigation for palliative care could look like in community.

For Basil, it has always been about working together with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. National Indigenous Peoples Day reminds us of the injustices and inequity that Indigenous peoples have faced and have continued to face for generations. Overall, Basil stresses the importance of having empathy for Indigenous peoples, which remains a common thread throughout the scope of her work.

“Our language and the things that our ancestors have said—it’s always been about living in harmony and that’s all we’ve ever wanted. I think we would be better off if more people had that mindset, especially in the research and healthcare world altogether.” — Cara Basil




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