Occupational Therapy and Aboriginal Health Network

The Occupational Therapy and Aboriginal Health network (OTAHN) started in 2009. The OTAHN consists of CAOT members with an interest in building capacity, lobbying for occupational therapy services, and generating a greater discourse on occupational therapy and Aboriginal peoples’ health in Canada. The OTAHN is a volunteer group who work with the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists National Office staff to develop supports, resources and lobby efforts to build and promote occupational therapy services with Aboriginal peoples. 


To provide leadership, networking and support for occupational therapists collaborating with Aboriginal clients and communities across Canada.

The Guiding Principles:

  • Self-determination and culture are important determinants of health for Aboriginal peoples and communities.
  • Aboriginal peoples’ health, their access to health care and their relationships with health care professionals continues to be impacted by colonization, especially the intergenerational impact of the residential school system.
  • Aboriginal knowledge and traditional cultural practices on health and wellbeing is equivalent and distinct from Western worldviews.
  • A strengths-based lens of Aboriginal peoples and communities as a whole builds trust and is more effective than a deficit-lens.
  • Occupational therapy programs and models of service delivery need to be developed in partnership with local Aboriginal colleagues and or communities. Partnerships are based on mutual respect, equality, sensitivity and trust.
  • Health is viewed holistically – integrating emotional, spiritual, physical and cognitive health and wellbeing


  • To create a dynamic and visible national network to connect occupational therapists who are working in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples and communities.
  • To increase the visibility and accessibility of culturally competent occupational therapy in Aboriginal communities in rural, remote and urban communities across Canada.
  • To promote the development of formal alliances and partnerships with key stakeholders in Aboriginal peoples’ health including Aboriginal associations/organizations and various levels of government.
  • To develop a working relationship on behalf of occupational therapists with Health Canada and Non-Insured Health Benefits (N.I.H.B.) to increase their awareness and understanding of the role and value of funding occupational therapy services.
  • To promote the inclusion of the following into occupational therapy curricula - Aboriginal knowledges on health and wellbeing as distinct and equivalent; the influence of colonization, and cultural safety.
  • To facilitate and promote research in occupational therapy and Aboriginal peoples’ health.



Cultural safety resources and readings

Allan, B. & Smylie, J. (2015). First Peoples, second class treatment: The role of racism in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Toronto, ON: the Wellesley Institute. Downloaded from: http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Summary-First-Peoples-Second-Class-Treatment-Final.pdf

 CAOT position statement on OT and Indigenous peoples health https://www.caot.ca/document/3700/O%20-%20OT%20and%20Aboriginal%20Health.pdf

 CBC’s 8th Fire https://www.coursera.org/lecture/aboriginal-education/8th-fire-episode-1-indigenous-in-the-city-43-24-RmmF6

 Gerlach, A.J., Teachman, G., Laliberté-Rudman, D., Aldrich, R.M., & Huot, S. (2018). Expanding beyond individualism: Engaging critical perspectives on occupation. Scandinavian journal of occupational therapy, 25 1, 35-43 .

 Gerlach, A. J. (2015). Sharpening our critical edge: Occupational therapy in the context of marginalized populations. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 82, 245–253. doi:10.1177/0008417415571730

 Gerlach, A.J., Sullivan, T., Valavaara, K., & McNeil, C. (2014). Turning the gaze inward: Relational practices with Aboriginal peoples’ informed by cultural safety. Occupational Therapy Now, 16(1), 20-21.

 Gerlach, A.J. (2012). A critical reflection of the concept of cultural safety. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79(3), 1511-158. doi: 10.2182/cjot.2012.79.2.2

 Hammell, K. W. (2015). Occupational rights and critical occupational therapy: Rising to the challenge. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 62, 449–451. doi:10.1111/1440-1630.12195

 McLean, S. (2018) “We Built a Life from Nothing: White Settler Colonialism and the Myth of Meritocracy.” Retrieved from: https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2017/12/McLean.pdf

 Phenix, A.; Valavaara, K. (2016). “Reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Calls to action in occupational therapy.” Occupational Therapy Now, 18(6), 17-18

 Reading, C.L., & Wein, F. (2009). Health inequalities and social determinants of Aboriginal peoples’ health: National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. Available from:

Adelson, N. (2005). The embodiment of inequity: Health disparities in Aboriginal Canada. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 96 (Supplement 2), 45-61.

Baba, L. (2013). Cultural safety in First Nations, Inuit and Metis public health: Environmental scan of cultural competency and safety in education, training and health services. Prince George, B.C.: National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. Available from: https://www.nccih.ca/495/Cultural_Safety_in_First_Nations,_Inuit_and_M%C3%A9tis_Public_Health.nccih?id=88

Brascoupe, S., & Waters, C. (2009). Cultural safety: Exploring the applicability of the concept of cultural safety to Aboriginal health and community wellness. Journal of Aboriginal Health, November, 6-41.

Browne, A. J., Varcoe, C., Smye, V., Reimer-Kirkham, S., Lyman, M.J., & Wong, S. (2009). Cultural safety and the challenges of translating critically oriented knowledge in practice. Nursing Philosophy, 10(3), 167-179. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-769X.2009.00406x

Gerlach, A.J. (2008). “Circle of caring”: A First Nations worldview of child rearing. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75(1). 18-25.

Gerlach, A.J. (2012). A critical reflection of the concept of cultural safety. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79(3), 1511-158. doi: 10.2182/cjot.2012.79.2.2

Gerlach, A.J., Sullivan, T., Valavaara, K., & McNeil, C. (2014). Turning the gaze inward: Relational practices with Aboriginal peoples’ informed by cultural safety. Occupational Therapy Now, 16(1), 20-21.

Jull, J.E.G., Giles, A.R. (2012). Health equity, Aboriginal peoples and occupational therapy. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy. 79(2). 70-76. doi:10.2182/cjot.2012.79.2.2

Papps, E., Ramsden, I. (1996). Cultural safety in nursing: The New Zealand experience:International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 8(5), 491-497. doi:10.1093/intqhc/8.5.491

Ramsden, I. (1993). Kawa Whakaruruhau: Cultural safety in nursing education in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 8(3), 4-10.

Reading, C.L., & Wein, F. (2009). Health inequalities and social determinants of Aboriginal peoples’ health: National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. Available from:

Valavaara, K. (2012). Finding my own path to travel: An Aboriginal student’s journey in occupational therapy. Occupational Therapy Now, 14(1), 6-7. 

Current information and resources available at: The National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health (NCCIH) - https://www.nccih.ca/en/

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