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An Aboriginal perspective: A holistic way of life

January 30, 2014

By Tracey King, Aboriginal human resources consultant, Ryerson University

Tracey King, Essinhs Kwe (Little Shell Woman) is Ojibway and Pottawatomi. Tracey recognizes that Aboriginal culture and perspectives are very diverse, and this article is a personal account written based on her opinions, teachings and experiences.

“The way of healing is holistic, based on an understanding of the interconnectedness of all life and the importance of balance and harmony in Creation.”  (PDF file) Traditional Healing Brochure (external link) 

Recently, a Cree Traditional Counsellor explained to me how our society is experiencing “holistic poverty.” This thought resonated with me. I have been an Aboriginal Counsellor for most of my working life (since 1990) and I could recognize elements of this concept in workplaces.

I want to share with you what a holistic workplace means from an Aboriginal perspective. This was taught to me by teachings of the Medicine Wheel. For those of us who try to live in the traditional way, holistic living is a way of life which emphasizes balance, harmony and respect for all living things. It is also applicable to an individual’s health and well-being, which includes four elements: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. Each of these elements require equal attention; if one of the elements is at a deficit or harmed, it will impact the other elements as well.

For example, the last few generations of my family have experienced thyroid conditions. When I sought treatment from a Traditional Healer or Medicine Person, he told me that this condition often stems from many of our people’s inability to communicate or from being silenced. It’s also apparently caused by past historical events of colonization (i.e. residential school) and often referred to as one of the health outcomes of intergenerational trauma. Coincidentally, a few generations of my family went to residential schools.

The Anishnawbe Health Clinic (external link)  is a great resource for traditional teachings. Here, I’ve provided a brief summary to show some of the connections between traditional teachings and creating a holistic workplace.

Every individual has the ability to heal

In the workplace, a manager or co-worker has the ability to help others heal. This may involve listening and providing support. In some cases, it may be more appropriate to refer employees to a professional service like the Employment Assistance Program, their family physician or a community health service. Historically, in the traditional lifestyle of many Indigenous cultures, people knew about plant medicines and sought Traditional Healing to treat or cure sickness. This knowledge empowered them to heal themselves. A holistic workplace is an organization where each day, every leader and employee supports each other to take time to care for themselves.

Every individual is sacred and has a Spirit

Every individual is a sacred Spirit and all things are interconnected. Every individual is said to live in a Sacred Circle of Life, which encompasses the mind, body, spirit and emotions (heart). We need to strive for balance and harmony in the four elements of the Medicine Wheel. We come to work to care for the Spirit in ourselves and each other. The care outlined above is only possible if every individual recognizes the importance of the Spirit and welcomes support. We each have to be responsible and take care of ourselves too.

I want to conclude here by sharing that our Elders, Traditional Healers and Counsellors are held in high esteem because they teach us who we are, where we belong, where we are going and where we come from. This is not only vital and integral to our way of life, it also encapsulates our resiliency to progress in today’s diverse workplaces.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Tracey at 416-979-5000, ext. 4705 or by email at