09/04/2012 10:41 EDT | Updated 11/04/2012 05:12 EST

Traditional healing urged in aboriginal cancer care

Growing concern about cancer rates in aboriginal communities is prompting efforts in Ontario to provide culturally specific care, which some say needs to include a mix of traditional healing and mainstream medicine.

The agency that oversees cancer care in Ontario has embarked on a three-year plan to reduce the cancer risk for people of aboriginal descent.

It includes community programs to screen more people who are at risk.

Mark Hartman is the head of the Northeast Cancer Centre in Sudbury. Eight per cent of the population that the centre serves is aboriginal.

"We are seeing cancer rates rising more quickly than in the general population. In part, that may be due to smoking rates, diet and other social issues," Hartman said.

But individuals including Cindy Peltier, who lives on the Wikwemikong reserve, on Manitoulin Island, want to see mainstream medicine incorporate traditional healing in patient care.

The Laurentian University graduate student, who watched her father battle kidney cancer, said the solace he took in healing ceremonies and practices inspired her to study how such traditions can complement mainstream medicine.

"My dad actually was fortunate enough to be able to use both Western and indigenous healing methods," she said.

"Those methods were particularly helpful in bringing our family closer together. He was a changed man preparing for his journey to the spiritual world."