Healthy Living in the North

Celebrating the unveiling of Gitxsan art at Wrinch Memorial Hospital

Curtain being pulled off of art piece.

Mary Vanstone and Chief George Gray unveiling the art.

This past fall, Mary Vanstone, local administrator for Wrinch Memorial Hospital in Hazelton, hosted an event celebrating the unveiling of Gitxsan art. Local Indigenous artwork in health care settings helps to create a more welcoming and culturally safe space. For many people at the event, the commissioning and unveiling of this artwork was more impactful than expected.

The artwork symbolizes robes of authority with a crest that depicts the Indian Residential School experience from the Gitxsan perspective. The Northwest East Aboriginal Health Improvement Committee commissioned the art for the hospital entrance as part of an initiative funded by Aboriginal Health to develop local cultural resources.

The art was made by residential school survivors participating in the Gitxsan Health Society Indian Residential School Resolution Health Support Program. At the unveiling event, several people who participated in its creation spoke about its meaning and their experiences working on it. Indian Residential School Resolution Health Support Worker Pamela Torres described the sessions where Indian Residential School survivors and family members from Kispiox, Sikedakh, and Gitanmaax came together, shared their stories, experiences, tears, and laughter as they worked to complete the beautiful artwork.

Also at the event, fellow support worker Gary Patsey described his experiences as an Indian Residential School survivor. He spoke about specific statistics of residential school impacts on the Gitxsan Huwilp and shared sensitive insights into his journey of healing. He challenged service providers to educate themselves on the 94 Calls to Action flowing from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Ardythe Wilson, manager of the support program, concluded the event with a reminder that all health care workers and service providers in the area are in positions where they can become partners of true reconciliation by working with, and supporting, the Gitxsan in developing a reconciliation model. The unveiling was a significant event and those in attendance were visibly moved.

The art was designed by Michelle Stoney, whose grandparents survived residential school and now actively promote Gitxsan history and culture. The crest represents the four clans of the Gitxsan Huwilp inside a mother and child, portraying the matrilineal foundation of the Gitxsan Nation. It recognizes those who suffered the abduction of their children and the intergenerational healing that continues to take place as a result of the long-reaching impacts of residential schools.

Vanstone shared:

It was an honour to help organize and be part of this event. The unveiling event provided an open forum for discussion and a step toward healing from the atrocities of the residential school system and the trauma sustained by First Nations in this community. As a health facility supporting the people of this community, we acknowledge that we have a lot of work left to do, however, we are confident in the collaborative relationships we are building with our community partners. The artwork hangs in our foyer as a symbolic reminder of the unbreakable bond between mother and child and the strength provided by the Wolf, Fireweed, Frog and Eagle clans of the Gitxsan people.

Verna Howard, Community Engagement Coordinator with the First Nations Health Authority, helped organize this event and said:

This event has made a big difference. It’s the first time we have seen our First Nations people and dancers involved in the hospital system. I could see on the elders’ faces the impact the cultural dance group and cultural recognition had, especially for those who reside there. The community members and residential school survivors, who have heard talk about reconciliation but have seen little action, saw this as a great step forward.

The event followed local Gitxsan protocols with Chief George Gray providing a formal welcome to the traditional Gitxsan territory and Elder Frances Sampson, opening the event with a prayer. Following the unveiling, there was a reception in the cafeteria where the Gitxsan Cultural dancers performed. Verna Howard and I spoke about the role of Aboriginal Health Improvement Committees and how Northern Health, First Nations Health Authority, and Indigenous communities and organizations are partnering to improve the health of Indigenous peoples in the north. Hereditary Chief Ray Jones, a residential school survivor, shared about the three constant companions in residential school: hunger, loneliness, and fear.

Cormac Hikisch, Health Services Administrator for the northwest area said,

I was grateful to be a part of this event – witnessing local residential school survivors share their stories and express appreciation for the button blanket as recognition of their suffering. It helped provide me with a better understanding of the real impacts to this tragic part of Canadian history, and more deeply realise the still current trauma that First Nations are working to move forward from.

This event was one step in Northern Health’s journey to honour and acknowledge local First Nations and making health care environments more culturally safe.

The women who created this blanket are Amanda Wesley, Theresa Stevens, Virginia Fowler, Rebecca Jagoda, Cindy Martin and Mae Martin with guidance from Marjorie Mowatt and Sadie Mowatt. Final touch-ups were provided by Lavender Macdonald.

Three women with button blankets.

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Foodie Friday: Supporting culturally safe environments with traditional First Nations foods

As a member of the Aboriginal Health team at Northern Health, it’s really important to me to support culturally safe health care environments. When health care settings are inclusive of Indigenous cultures and traditions, they become more culturally safe for Indigenous people. That is why I was excited to learn how Northern Health staff are making traditional First Nations foods available to patients and residents!

Cook with Hugwiljum (fish soup)

Offering traditional First Nations foods in health care environments is an important step in creating an inclusive, welcoming, and culturally safe health system for Indigenous peoples.

In Hazelton, cooks Anita Lattie and Armin Wesley are excited to make traditional First Nations foods available to residents and patients at Wrinch Memorial Hospital. Both Armin and Anita are Gitxsan; Anita is from Gitanmaax and Armin is from Sik-E-Dakh.

“When patients and residents see foods they are familiar with, they enjoy it more,” said Anita about the response to the menu additions.

“I have been waiting for this,” said a resident about the Hugwiljum fish soup and bannock he was eating for lunch.

The process of adding new foods to the Northern Health menu repertoire involves putting the recipe in a consistent format, testing it with ten people, and then submitting it for approval and further testing. Support services coordinator Deana Hawkins explained to me that once the recipes are approved, they are added to the core menu across Northern Health so other sites can also serve them.

In the northwest, Mills Memorial Hospital, Terraceview Lodge, and Kitimat General Hospital now offer the Hugwiljum fish soup and bannock. Anita has just finished testing a salmon patty recipe to send for approval this week. “All the staff in the Wrinch Memorial kitchen are Aboriginal and it makes us feel good about our jobs to be able to do this,” said Armin. According to BC Stats, in Hazelton, 56.5% of the urban population is Aboriginal.

In Prince Rupert, dietitian Arlene Carlson works with Elders at the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society and Friendship House to organize traditional feasts twice a year for residents of Acropolis Manor, the local long term care facility. The feasts include locally prepared, seasonal foods such as fish chowder, moose soup, and kelp on roe. Local First Nations cultural entertainment is a highlight of the feasts. “These feasts are really popular with First Nations and non-First Nations residents alike,” said Arlene. This work has helped create a policy within our organization of bringing in food for social functions and cultural events. Other policies are in place to support families to bring in food for their loved ones in long term care.

On Haida Gwaii, traditional foods are offered in both hospitals. In the south, the Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre – Xaayda Gwaay Ngaaysdll Naay serves local fish regularly on the menu and the Meals on Wheels program brings traditional food to Elders in the hospital on a weekly basis. In Masset, Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital & Health Centre residents are offered a special occasion meal once per month. Meals feature local and traditional ingredients such as fish, clams, deer, and locally grown vegetables. On Haida Gwaii, Shelly Crack and Tessie Harris are part of a national movement to incorporate sustainable food into the health care system; including more traditional foods.

Cultural safety is a priority for Northern Health. In July 2015, all BC Health Authority CEOs signed a declaration demonstrating their commitment to advancing cultural humility and cultural safety with their organizations. The goal of cultural safety is for all people to feel respected and safe when they interact with the health system. Culturally safe health services are free of racism and discrimination. People are supported to draw strengths from their identity, culture, and community. One of the features of a culturally safe health system is ensuring physical environments reflect local Indigenous communities and cultures.

Offering traditional First Nations foods in health care environments is an important step in creating an inclusive, welcoming and culturally safe health system for Indigenous peoples.

Hugwiljum (fish soup)

Makes 4-5 portions

Ingredients

  • 2 cups potatoes
  • 1 medium onion (diced)
  • 3 salmon loins
  • 1 tbsp curry
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 litre water

Instructions

  1. Bring all ingredients to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender and salmon cooked.

 

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Foodie Friday: With gratitude to the hunters and the snow…

Moose in snow

Have you tried wild game before? Registered dietitian Victoria was hesitant at first but now has trouble going back to beef!

Winter is here and I am pretty excited. I love the first snowfall! Letting those first snowflakes settle on my face is one of my favorite winter moments. It’s a great time for families and friends to get out and have some fun together walking or playing in the snow.

After one of those outdoor winter adventures, it’s sure nice to come home to a hot meal. This is where a crock pot comes in handy! The recipe I’m sharing today is moose meat spaghetti sauce made in a crock pot so all you have to do is cook the pasta when you get home. Sound good? Of course, if you don’t have moose meat, you can always substitute ground beef.

I know many Indigenous people and northerners who hunt or have someone who hunts for them. I had the good fortune last year to be given some moose meat from a friend. I learned a lot from him about the best way to cook the meat and make sure it is safe to eat.

The First Nations Traditional Foods Fact Sheets from the First Nations Health Authority are a great resource on traditional foods such as moose. They provide nutritional information as well as traditional harvesting and food use. Moose meat is an excellent source of protein and B vitamins (riboflavin and niacin), and a good source of iron. It’s also low in saturated fat compared to modern domestic animals like beef.

I’ll admit that at first, my daughters and I were hesitant to try moose meat because we had not had it before. But after a few meals, we found it hard to go back to beef! Moose meat is a healthy and delicious northern food. I hope you enjoy winter and this great tasting crock pot moose meat spaghetti!

Crock pot moose spaghetti

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 500 g ground moose meat
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1- 28 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1- 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • Other vegetables such as mushrooms or zucchini (optional)
  • 1 package spaghetti or other pasta noodles

Instructions

  1. Fry the ground moose meat in a frying pan with the oil until fully cooked. Put into crock pot.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except the noodles. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
  3. When you are ready to eat, in separate pot, boil water, add the noodles, and cook as per the package directions. Drain. Serve with the sauce on top.

Serving suggestion:

  • If you like, you can garnish with parmesan cheese and serve with a tossed salad. A dessert such as frozen berries is a nice addition.
Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Orange Shirt Day

Two women dressed in orange

Marking Orange Shirt Day in Kitsumkalum.

I was honoured to be invited to Kitsumkalum’s Orange Shirt Day by Charlene Webb, the community health director. Although I got to wear a beautiful locally designed orange shirt, enjoy yummy orange food, and visit with many people, this event has a sad undertone.

What is Orange Shirt Day?

September 29th is Orange Shirt Day – a day of remembrance and recognition of residential school survivors and those who did not survive.

It is a day each year to acknowledge the harm done by the residential school system to children’s self-esteem and well-being and to remember that every child matters. Orange Shirt Day grew out of Phyllis’ story. In 1973, when she was 6 years old, Phyllis attended the Mission school. On her first day of school, her clothes (including a special, brand new, shiny orange shirt) were taken from her and replaced with a uniform. Orange Shirt Day is an annual opportunity to engage in a discussion on all aspects of the residential school system.

Residential schools

September is when children go back to school and it is therefore timely to remember the Indigenous children in Canada who were taken from their families and travelled long distances to attend residential schools. Instead of being nurtured and supported, many suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse there.

Residential schools are a dark part of Canadian history that make me very sad. As a 6th generation Canadian white woman with First Nations children, I have struggled with this part of Canada’s history. I first learned about residential schools when I was pregnant with my first child. I was devastated that such a thing could happen. As a parent, I cannot imagine a more heart wrenching and devastating experience than having my children forcibly removed and taken far away where I cannot protect them or care for them.

Woman wearing "Every Child Matters" shirt

Orange Shirt Day is a day each year to acknowledge the harm done by the residential school system to children’s self-esteem and well-being and to remember that every child matters.

Learning more

As hard as it is, we need to acknowledge that this tragedy occurred and learn more about it so that it never happens again. I encourage you to explore several resources:

Cultural humility

Part of healing from this difficult history in Canada involves all of us developing our cultural humility – our ability to be respectful, self-aware, and lifelong learners when it comes to the experiences of others.

I encourage you to join me and participate in the First Nations Health Authority social media campaign to engage all of us in advancing cultural safety and humility in the health system. In my daily life, I strive to do my part to help create an environment in Northern Health where people feel safe from racism and discrimination. Make a pledge today and share it on social media. Together we can make a difference.

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Foodie Friday: Berry Adventures

buckets of berries in a kayak.I am thankful to live on the beautiful traditional lands of the Tsimshian people. Recently, on a lovely morning when the water was calm and the sun was out, I departed for an adventure in my kayak. Because I went alone, I made sure someone knew where I was, picked a spot that wasn’t too remote, and brought safety supplies along. Part way along my journey, I stopped and picked two buckets of high bush cranberries. Although it was a bit of a juggling act to kayak back without spilling them, it was well worth the effort. I came home and looked through my wild plant books to make sure I had indeed picked cranberries, not some poisonous imposter. There are some excellent books available as well as reputable online sources, like this Edible Berries of BC guide. You can also seek guidance from an experienced picker or an Elder. When you aren’t sure, don’t eat it.

I embarked on the quest of deciding what to do with my berries. While I am quite familiar with making jam, I haven’t made jelly before. Since these cranberries have a significant seed in the centre, I decided to strain them out. I looked up how to do this and began navigating my way. It was trial and error as I was trying to blend the old and the new…recipes without pectin against those with pectin. So I’ll be honest with you, while I haven’t mastered the art of making wild cranberry jelly yet, here is what I learned. This is part of the adventure itself, to experiment and make something delicious! Next time I would just strain the berries and drink the juice!

Gathering berries has been an important activity, food and medicinal source for First Nations and Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years. Cranberries are known for their medicinal benefits, such as anti-bacterial properties that can help prevent urinary tract infections. They are also high in antioxidants that help boost the immune system and they are a source of vitamin C. For more information on traditional foods, access the First Nations Traditional Foods Fact Sheets from the First Nations Health Authority.

The activity of picking berries is good for my mind, body and spirit. Being out in nature is healing for me. When I am having a tough time for one reason or another, being in nature helps to restore me to balance. I also enjoy being self-reliant. Berry picking can also be a family activity. When my children were young it was a great way to get them out and active.

Remember to leave some berries for other people and animals to eat, and be careful not to damage the plants so there can be future harvests.

High Bush Cranberry Jelly

A bowl full of freshly picked berries.Ingredients

  • 2 small buckets of cranberries
  • 4 cups of water
  • 4 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 ¼ boxes of Certo light

Instructions

  1. Boil cranberries with water for 10 minutes.
  2. Make a cheesecloth bag and place inside a strainer inside a bowl. I used elastic bands to hold my cheesecloth in place.
  3. Let the juice drip out overnight. I got about 7 cups of juice. If you have less pour some hot water through the berries to get more. I squeezed my bag, but if you want a clear liquid you aren’t supposed to!
  4. Sterilize the jars and metal lids. I put them in the oven at 225 degrees for 10 minutes.
  5. Put snap lids in water that is hot but not boiling.
  6. Mix Certo with a ¼ cup of sugar. Stir into juice. Bring to a boil. Add rest of sugar and bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute.
  7. Test mixture for the right consistency by putting some on a spoon and letting cool in the fridge. If it firms and then falls off the spoon in one ‘flake’ it’s done, otherwise boil it longer.
  8. Pour into hot jars, wipe rims with a clean cloth dipped in the water the lids are in, put on snap lids and metal lids and tighten.
  9. If the lid pops down, it’s sealed.
  10. Enjoy with turkey on fried bread!
Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Reflections on storytelling & spiritual health

As part of a recent project on healthy aging, I asked Semiguul (Fanny Nelson, Elder from Metlakatla) to share her thoughts on storytelling and spiritual health. She reflected on the importance of both of these ideas and, with National Aboriginal Day just around the corner, I wanted to share her insights with you.

Semiguul (Fanny Nelson, Elder from Metlakatla)

Semiguul (Fanny Nelson, Elder from Metlakatla)

On storytelling:

Story telling, in our culture, is the teaching and passing down of our knowledge. In our culture, the ‘Adaawx’ is our way of teaching the history of our people. The Tsimshian people.

On spiritual health:

Everything we did and were taught was how to pray for everything we take from the Creator. Cedar from the tree, fish from the sea, hide from the deer or moose which we used to make clothing. Whatever we took from the Creator, we gave thanks. We were also taught, only take what you need.

What do storytelling and spiritual health mean to you?

Find a Day of Wellness / National Aboriginal Day event near you.

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Foodie Friday: Salmon and a celebration of Indigenous heritage, cultures, and foods

Canned salmon

Salmon can be prepared and enjoyed in so many ways. It is delicious and nutritious!

Salmon, salmon, salmon … so delicious and nutritious! Canned, fried, baked, dried, smoked, candied, pickled … the possibilities are endless! My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Salmon fishing season is approaching for many people across northern B.C. and my partner has been preparing for weeks. Last weekend he brought home our first spring salmon of the year from the Skeena River.

A fishing net along the Skeena River - where Victoria's partner recently caught his first spring salmon of the year!

A fishing net along the Skeena River – where Victoria’s partner recently caught his first spring salmon of the year!

Not only is salmon so delicious, it’s also very nutritious. It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids that help protect against strokes and heart disease. When eating canned salmon, be sure to mash up the bones as they are a good source of calcium, making our bones and teeth strong. Salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D, which is important in keeping our bones strong as well as protecting us from arthritis and cancer. Salmon meat, skin, head and eggs also provide protein and B vitamins.

Mother and daughter in a selfie

Fishing for salmon can be a family affair! Victoria and her daughter spend quality time together watching her partner fish! Photo by Hannah Litkw Stewart.

Salmon has been a staple food of coastal First Nations since time immemorial. Aboriginal Day is June 21 and is a great opportunity to celebrate Indigenous heritage, cultures, and foods. Some events even include salmon! For example, Saaynangaa Naay-Skidegate Health Centre is hosting Haida games, storytelling and a salmon meal! Gitlaxt’aamiks is hosting a soapberry ice cream contest and fish preparation contests. Check out an Aboriginal Day event in your area, including over 100 Day of Wellness events supported by the First Nations Health Authority! Find an event in your community and come out and celebrate Aboriginal Day!

Want to add salmon to your menu? Baked salmon is a great treat. Here is one of my favorite baked salmon recipes to try:

Dilled Salmon

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 (6 oz) salmon fillets

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. In a small bowl, combine garlic, oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, dill, mustard and syrup.
  3. Place fillets in a medium glass baking dish and cover with the marinade.
  4. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes/inch or until cooked through and easily flaked with a fork. Do not overcook.

Enjoy!

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Foodie Friday: Nature provides

Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads are one of several edible plants available in our region.

Spring is here. I can feel it. Can you feel it too? The sun is out and I just want to be outside as much as I can. I can’t wait to get my fingers in the earth. I’m excited by the new shoots showing up. This is a great season to learn about the gifts that spring gives to nourish us.

My partner is from the Kitselas First Nation and he has gathered ostrich fern fiddleheads for years. He watches the signs of spring and knows just when and where to find them. It’s quite an art. Without his help, I would probably gather the wrong thing. Last year, we harvested stinging nettle, too. It was so delicious! I could almost taste the nutrients dancing in my mouth. Of course, we had to use thick gloves to pick it and cook it so as to avoid a nasty sting.

Want to try gathering and cooking fiddleheads this spring? Here’s how!

For centuries, First Nations and Aboriginal people have been harvesting plants. This has been an important part of their diet and medicine. Nutritional information shows us that wild plants are often much higher in nutrients than other, store-bought vegetables.

Mint

Wild mint is another edible plant available in northern B.C. Check with elders or knowledge holders in your community before heading out to gather!

There are some great resources available on edible plants. The spring is a great opportunity to take one of these books, get outdoors with your family, and enjoy nature’s treasure hunt. I am no expert, so I encourage you to check with elders and knowledge holders in your communities to learn what is safe to gather, when to gather it, and protocols you need to respect and areas you should or shouldn’t gather in. Also, take care not to overharvest and to avoid zones that have been sprayed to avoid environmental contaminants.

Here are some great resources to start you out on your gathering journey:

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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A video from North Coast First Nations for health care providers

Man in First Nations regalia

A still frame from the opening of Honouring our Journey, a newly released video that provides information for health care providers about the Haida and Tsimshian Nations culture, history, and how these impact their health care needs.


“The door is open for you to learn,” says Kitkatla Councillor, Timothy Innes. “Learn how our culture is and what it entails … and who we are, then (you) can work with us more comfortably … you’re not intruding.”

The North Coast Aboriginal Health Improvement Committee (AHIC) is pleased to launch a video, Honouring Our Journey, that provides information for health care providers about the Haida and Tsimshian Nations culture, history, and how these impact their health care needs.

“If doctors and nurses come with an open mind and are genuine, lots will be returned to them as our people are kind and generous,” says Elizabeth Moore, an Elder in Old Masset.

In 2014-2015, Aboriginal Health provided financial support to each of the nine AHICs in the north to develop local cultural resources. These resources were guided by the question, “If I were a new health care practitioner in your community, what would you want me to know?”

In the video, Lauren Brown, the Health Director in Skidegate, encourages health care providers to consider “the whole person, including their beliefs and traditions.” Cindy Ignas, the Health Director in Kitkatla advises,

“You have to really listen and be very careful to not make any judgements and to understand the cultural lens that you bring as a non-First Nations person … step back from your biases, assumptions, and judgements and try to really learn, be curious and ask lots of questions.”

Betty Reece, the Health Director in Lax Kw’alaams, says, “Come out and meet the people apart from your workplace.”

This impactful video covers important and relevant topics such as:

  • the present day impacts of Residential School experiences on health care interactions,
  • the current role of traditional medicines and the importance of health care providers asking about their use to prevent possible negative interactions with prescribed medications,
  • the importance of using plain language, including family and/or translators in the appointment, and
  • learning about the gathering and use of traditional foods in health and well-being.

I highly encourage you to watch this 25 minute video and share it with others. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, Mary Wesley, video producer and the Aboriginal Patient Liaison in Prince Rupert and for the North Coast, would be happy to connect and even to facilitate group discussions following a screening.

This video is a beautiful gift from the North Coast First Nations in hopes that we all are inspired to continue our learning journeys towards a culturally safe health care system for all First Nations and Aboriginal people. Another way to develop your understanding of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples is the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training, an online course by the Provincial Health Services Authority.

A booklet summarizes the cultural resources developed by AHICs across the north.

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Healthy living for healthy aging

Woman on a boat

“Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.” Judy Gerow shares her thoughts on health and aging.

Judy Gerow is member of the Kitselas First Nation and has been in Band Council for over 20 years: two years as Chief and the rest as Councillor. She is a mother of six, a stepmother of an additional six, and is also raising her granddaughter. Throughout her whole life, her health has been on her mind. I had the privilege of asking Judy a few questions about her experiences of health and aging and am excited to share her thoughts and story below.

Do you believe that health is a journey?

Yes, absolutely, I think it’s a journey! Your physical and mental health play a big part in your well-being and need to be in balance to be truly healthy.

When did you start really considering your health?

Even though I have always been thinking about my health, it was after I became a mother that I realized how important it was to take care of myself so that I was here for my children.

My kids are a real motivation for me. Now that I am raising my granddaughter, I want to take care of myself to make sure I am here for her until she can be on her own.

What things are you doing to keep you healthy?

I try to watch what I eat and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. I keep myself involved in various activities, many of which are physical such as my volunteer role in the fire department. I like to fish and hunt and through this, challenge my body to keep up with others and carry what I can. I garden, too.

Family is also very important to me; we are a large and close family and look forward to getting together for family dinners. As I get older, I spend more time thinking about my life, what matters, and how I can live this to the fullest.

How does this healthy lifestyle make you feel?

I feel a sense of pride that I can still pull my own weight, even though I can’t carry as much as I could in my youth. My role model is my mother. She is 84 years old and she’s still going strong. When she was in her 60’s, I had a hard time keeping up to her. She would get up at dawn and preserve fruits and vegetables until late at night. She is slowing down now due to health concerns. She has macular degeneration but she still cuts fish, even though she does it now by feel.

When I’m out on the river or in the bush, I have time to reflect and focus on the land and the environment. I find that very spiritual and I get a sense of belonging when I’m out there. It’s like I can feel the presence of my ancestors who walked before me for thousands of years.

How do you think having a healthy lifestyle now will support your health in the future?

I think it will help me to live longer and to remain active. I couldn’t imagine not being active. I want to be just like my mom! When I was growing up, I used to tell my friends that I didn’t want to be like my mother. It’s ironic that no matter how hard I tried to do things differently, I end up like her! My mother is always there, a focus in my life.

What are you most looking forward to about being healthy as you age?

I look forward to being active and having a fulfilling life where I can do what I want and not be a burden to anyone. I want to remain independent as long as I can.

If you could share one message with others about your journey, what would that message be?

When you are younger, you don’t think about what it’s going to be like when you’re older. Choices one makes when they are young do matter in the future, that is the message I would like to share.

Every summer was like bootcamp for me. I was busy keeping up to my husband as we hunted or fished together. I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Parts of my body are starting to give me more problems now – like my knees and my elbows – from pushing myself too much then, packing heavy loads, and jumping off rocks.

My husband passed away five years ago from lung cancer. He was a smoker and a drinker. I chose not to so I could be there for my children. My current partner has diabetes and heart disease from not taking care earlier.

Everyone needs to start taking care of themselves and be more conscious of what’s around them. Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.

I never had an interest in gardening even when I had watched my mom do it. Yet, last year, we planted a garden and what came up was wonderful! I found it so relaxing; I could just get lost in it. I could sit in that garden, pulling weeds and not think of anything and before I knew it, four hours had passed! Work and other things in my life slipped away. We all need to do more of this. Life is too fast-paced. I’m going on a vacation soon. My partner and I are taking our motorhome and just going – no destination or timeline! Stress-free!

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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