September 30: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

A Time for Reflection, but also for Action

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded years of necessary work with a number of reports containing vital recommendations. For those unfamiliar with the Commission, its goals included, amongst others, an acknowledgement of the experiences, impacts and consequences of the residential school system for Indigenous children and the provision of a safe setting for former students, families and communities to share their truths, raise public awareness and encourage reconciliation, namely the establishment and maintaining of a mutually respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

As an academic health centre that provides care to Indigenous patients and whose workplace includes Indigenous staff, I feel strongly that this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation represents an opportunity to pause and reflect on our collective history.  Let us not fail by thinking that history is only part of our past.

As Gerry St. Germain, a Métis Canadian senator at the time of the Commission said: “While we cannot change history, we can learn from it and we can use it to shape our common future. This effort is crucial in realizing the vision of creating a compassionate and humanitarian society (…). 1”   

It is with this in mind that we should not lose sight of a very harmful chapter in our history that’s related to colonization. Between the 1870s and 1997, over 150,000 Indigenous children across Canada were removed from their families and forced to attend residential schools. Quebec was home to six such schools, two of which were located at Fort George Island on James Bay, one was in Sept-Îles, one in Amos, one in Pointe-Bleue and another in La Tuque. Several day schools and hostels also existed. The cultural, emotional, spiritual and physical suffering of these children (those who died and those who survived), and their families (including siblings left behind) — indeed whole communities — cannot be expressed in this one message. We can however, recognize that no one should ever have to endure such wrongs and take firm steps to change intolerable and unacceptable situations that still exist.

On September 28, 2020, Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman, endured an undignified and tragic death. Joyce’s Principle, which builds on the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, was developed subsequently as a declaration, a call to action and a commitment to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights relative to health and social services.  

Today, I am proud to announce that, following a presentation of preliminary recommendations by the Committee for Action on Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (C-AIDE), the Board of Directors of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) has endorsed the adoption of Joyce’s Principle, which is as follows:


Joyce’s Principle

Joyce’s Principle aims to guarantee to all Indigenous people the right of equitable access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services, as well as the right to enjoy the best possible physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Joyce's Principle requires the recognition and respect of Indigenous people’s traditional and living knowledge in all aspects of health [Source: The Council of the Atikamekw of Manawan and the Atikamekw Nation Council].


I want to underscore that the adoption of Joyce’s Principle will not be “on paper” only. It must serve as a blueprint for the collaborative approach we envision with Indigenous Peoples, but also with all our patients and their families as well as with our own teams regardless of their culture, beliefs, traditions, practices, or orientations.

It is by working together that we will learn from and about each other, nurture trust and realize a more accessible, harmonious, respectful and safe healthcare setting for all. Stay tuned for more announcements related to equity, diversity and inclusion at the MUHC. In addition, use this day to think about what you can do in your daily life that will contribute to our efforts.

Pierre Gfeller, MD, CM, MBA
President and Executive Director, MUHC    

1 Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Summary of the Final Report, 2015, pg. 184