NORTHERN HEALTH – Dr. Terri Aldred has dedicated her life and career to healing Indigenous peoples in Northern communities.
A Carrier from the Tl’azt’en Nation, whose traditional territory is north of Fort St. James, Dr. Aldred was born in Prince George, the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh people. She lived there until the age of seven, when she moved to Tachet, the traditional territory of the Lake Babine Nation, which is located near Granisle. She ultimately moved back to Prince George in her early teens, but her time on the reserve impacted her deeply.
“The anger and the shame and guilt were very heavy on the reserve,” says Dr. Aldred. “Growing up in these communities, and in my family too, we struggled with drugs and alcohol, sexual abuse and physical violence. And as I dealt with my own healing journey, the one message that always rang clear was that the only way to break the break the cycle was to stay in school.”
Following her dream of giving back to her family and community
Dr. Aldred completed high school in Prince George. She was fortunate to have several mentors who encouraged her to become a physician as a means of following her dream of giving back to her family and community. She was skeptical.
“I agreed to apply and never in a million years thought I would get in,” she says, “and when I did I was terrified. Our belief in our tradition says that if fear is the only thing holding you back then that is the path you are supposed to take. It was clear this was my path, and so I took it.”
In 2011, Dr. Aldred graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences and a Doctor of Medicine. In 2013, she completed her residency in Victoria, BC, in the University of British Columbia’s Aboriginal Family Practice Residency program. During her studies, Dr. Aldred became heavily involved in Indigenous Health initiatives, as well as mentorship and admission programs.
Today, Dr. Aldred provides outreach primary care to rural Indigenous communities and inner-city youth. She is a family physician for Carrier Sekani Family Services and, until 2020, was the medical director for the Prince George Foundry Clinic.
Improving Indigenous health in the province
In addition to her work as a physician, Dr. Aldred is passionate about providing professional leadership in post-graduate medical education. She is the Site Director for the UBC’s Indigenous Family Medicine Program, where she provides coaching and administrative support to new family practice residents from across Canada who are passionate about providing family medicine to Indigenous people. The program is distributed across Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland, with outreach clinics across the province.
Dr. Aldred is an avid speaker, facilitator, and educator on the topic of cultural safety and humility, anti-Indigenous racism, and physician health and well-being. She regularly teaches undergraduate and post-graduate classes and is a welcome presenter at many conferences, including the BC Rural Health Conference, Rural Physicians of Canada conference, UBC Learning Circle, Intercultural Online Health Network, and UBC Continuing Professional Development webinars.
Dr. Aldred is also Medical Director for Primary Care for First Nations Health Authority and was the first Indigenous Communities Representative for the Northern Interior Rural Division of Family Practice. She is also Indigenous Lead for the Rural Coordination Center of BC, and is a board member of the BC College of Family Physicians (BCCFP). In 2019, she developed the BC Indigenous Medical Education Gathering, a network of current and future physicians dedicated to improving Indigenous health in the province.
Changing the landscape of Indigenous health
In recognition of her incredible work in the field of culturally-safe health care delivery, Dr. Aldred was one of five recipients to be awarded the Resident Doctors of Canada (RDoC) award in April 2021 for her work in changing the landscape of Indigenous Health in Canada through medical education. Her teachings focus on mentoring students on the practices of providing culturally-safe care to Indigenous peoples while also exploring the historical, sociodemographic, and political contexts of health.
This was the most recent of several awards that have been conferred on Dr. Aldred. Other awards she has received include the Darcy Tailfeathers Memorial Award in Medicine in 2010, the John J. Zack Award for Excellence in Family Practice in 2013, and the BCCFP’s First Five Years in Practice Achievement Award in 2018.
A passionate supporter of integrating the arts into medicine, Dr. Aldred has worked with the Health and Arts Research Centre in Prince George and in 2015 was nominated for the community’s Healthier You Awards. She first experienced this merging of disciplines at the University of Alberta Health Science department, which had an extensive program dedicated to incorporating the arts into medical training.
Dr. Aldred recently earned a Graduate certificate in Indigenous Public Health from UBC Center of Excellence In Indigenous Health. The program is run within UBC’s School of Public Health, and had a great impact on Dr. Aldred.
“It was the very first learning environment where I could be my full self. I never felt unsafe or judged,” says Dr. Aldred. “I got to be creative, I got to dance, I got to dive deep into topics and ideas that lit my soul on fire. I met the most incredible humans, each of whom I adore more than they will ever know.”
Dr. Aldred believes that connecting people with their roots is the start of the healing process, and that Indigenous ways of knowing and being, art and ceremony, can help people achieve greater health. Although COVID-19 has reduced her ability to travel to communities, she continues to provide virtual primary care to heal First Nations people in remote areas of the province. She lives in Prince George with her husband and two pets, Indie (cat) and Tito (dog).