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Samson Cree Nation father discusses cultural approach to autism

Bruno: ‘These children were gifted’
PhD student Grant Bruno with his family. (Photo by Noella Steinhauer Photography/ PhD student Grant Bruno with his family. (Photo by Noella Steinhauer Photography/

By Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is honouring the national Indigenous People’s Month by hosting topics of discussion, such as neurodiversity autism, on through Zoom.

AHS started to host a Zoom discussion related to the celebration of diversity within Indigenous people and communities on June 1, and will continue to do so until the closing ceremonies on June 29.

The first discussion was on autism in which Grant Bruno, Ph.D. in medical sciences candidate, department of pediatrics at the University of Alberta, shared how he approaches autism, parenting, and how it links back to his culture.

“How I approach autism, how I approach parenting is very rooted in my culture, even before I learned my culture, which is absolutely amazing,” said Bruno.

Bruno is a parent to two autistic boys and is a member of Nipisihkopahk (Samson Cree Nation). He expressed his experience in kindly educating others.

“I’m here kind of teaching you all because ableism, much like racism, much like sexism, is everywhere. And it’s something that I think we have to take on at a personal level. And that, for me, I become not just able to stop becoming antiballistic. So, when I hear people saying things that they shouldn’t be, I try and correct them in like healthy, meaningful ways. And so, what I do is I don’t call people out anymore. I call people in. I learned this, again, through my culture.”

Bruno is a first-generation residential school survivor — both his nôkomak (grandmother), and his mother attended Maskwacis residential schools. He noted the incorporation of culture in his research and the impact of knowing whose you are.

“We just got to talking, you know, about ceremony and how I can incorporate ceremony more into my research, and so on and so forth. And so just from that ability for me to understand, it’s not who you are, but whose you are, I was able to build a connection right away that is going to benefit myself and benefit my research and benefit my family.”

Bruno shared the connection and identity he formed as an adult through learning about his family, ancestors, and culture and how healthy this was for him to experience. He noted even with what colonialism has taken from his people, some of the teachings and patterns still get genetically passed down.

“It’s interesting because I think even with how much colonialism has taken away, I really truly believe that some of our teachings and our approaches to parenting and to life still get passed down in other ways.”

Bruno discussed health, disability services, and education, the tension between the provincial and federal government, and as a result the lack of services the Indigenous community is experiencing.

“But because health, including disability services, and education, and all these other things are provincial, you’re seeing a lot of tension between the two. You’re seeing the federal government saying provinces should pay for this, and so on, and vice versa. And then nothing happens. Now we are trying to address this in the community.”

Bruno set up an autism advisory circle for research which includes Indigenous Elders, autistic people, service providers, and educators. He said they are in the process of developing a clinic in schools for assessing autism and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

“We’re actually developing an in-school clinic for assessments for autism and FASD for the first time ever.”

AHS’ next open discussion of perspectives on addiction and recovery for Indigenous people will be held Thursday at noon until 1 p.m. through Zoom; you can join the discussion through He noted the connection in Cree culture with autism and how it would have been viewed as a gift.

“It’s interesting because the more I’ve learned about cultural understandings or Cree understandings of autism, I’m learning that, you know, autism would have been viewed as a gift. And these children were gifted.”