Healthy Living in the North

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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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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Sharing of cultural practices in health care transitions

“I can’t emphasize how important it is for health care professionals to take the lead in asking these questions (about cultural practices), in peeling back the layers of assumptions, and finding out specifically how we can assist and make any transition smoother. Things will go better if those questions are asked right away and then I’ve always found when that happens, those questions are met with relief almost and answers are immediate” -Coco Miller, Kitselas, Tsimshian Nation

Young boy carrying drum

A young drummer at a video launch event in Kitselas.

The Terrace/Kitimat and Area Aboriginal Health Improvement Committee (AHIC) is pleased to launch two videos that share information for health care providers about the Tsimshian, Tahltan, Haisla, Gitxsan, and Nisga’a peoples’ cultural practices and how they impact their health care needs.

In 2014-2016, Aboriginal Health provided financial support for each of the eight AHICs in the north to develop local cultural resources. Development of these resources was guided by the question: “If I were a new health care provider in Northern Health, what you would want me to know?”

The Terrace/Kitimat and Area AHIC produced the following videos which focus on cultural practices for important life transitions:

These videos cover important topics relevant for life events that often take place in the health system including:

  • the importance of families gathering and being together,
  • the cultural roles of the family,
  • the diversity of practices among families and Nations,
  • how Northern Health staff can support families and their cultural practices, and
  • the importance of communication between the patient/family and care providers.

“I think it’s very important to have family there and friends to be around us to support us, pray for us. They are there to feed us. Especially for the young ones to be there to witness what we have to go through during the time of a death. It’s very important for them to know how we feel and see the experience.” -Roberta Grant, Haisla Nation

Group of six adults with gift bags.

Celebrating the launch of the AHIC videos in Kitselas.

“The Grandmother comes to visit and is in the delivery room also. She will take the baby and examine the baby to look for any recognizable birth marks on the baby because, in our belief, our family comes back through reincarnation. An aunt of the father also needs to be in the delivery room because we have her role to be to cut the umbilical cord because this signifies their role as the father clan. The child is no longer just belonging to the mother’s family (the maternal family) but the child also belongs to the paternal family.” -Verna Howard, Gitxsan/Wet’suwet’en Nation

I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch these videos and share them with others. The information contained in these videos is an amazing gift from the Tsimshian, Tahltan, Haisla, Gitxsan and Nisǥa’a peoples.

I hope the videos inspire all of us to continue collaborating and learning and that you find them helpful in your life and your work.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more, I encourage you to contact Lloyd McDames, the Aboriginal Patient Liaison in Terrace.

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.

Find more work done by the AHICs from across the north in this booklet of local cultural resources.

 

Cultural practices around birth

Cultural practices around illness and death

Jonathan Cooper

About Jonathan Cooper

Jonathan Cooper is the Health Service Administrator for Kitimat. His role includes many aspects of health care responsibilities for acute, complex care and community services in Kitimat. Jonathan has been in this role approaching 8 years, during which time he has been actively participating in many health committees, including the Terrace, Kitimat & Region Aboriginal Health Improvement Committee. Jonathan immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom where he worked for the National Health Service. Jonathan enjoys outdoor pursuits, cooking, reading, and spending time with his family and children.

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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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