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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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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First Nations books: Children’s books exploring the Northwest Coast

Library bookshelf

The hunt for the perfect children’s book can be a challenge! When you are next searching, be sure to check out the collection of vibrant, beautiful books featuring local First Nations stories!

The hunt for the perfect children’s book can be a challenge. The number of options available can be overwhelming. In British Columbia, especially in the North, we are lucky enough to have access to culturally diverse reading material to offer our children.

Where I live, books featuring the Northwest’s vibrant First Nations cultures provide an opportunity for members of these communities to share their culture with others. In addition, for First Nations children, having materials that feature their local culture allows them to see images they are able to identify with and relate to. While it is also important to expose children to topics and subjects outside of their culture (broad background knowledge is important to later reading comprehension) having relatable materials can be a great way to transmit important information to the next generation.

The problem? Sometimes these books are not quite at the level that we need for a particular child. Rather than writing them off, though, try adapting the books to make them “just right” for your child’s level of development!

Garfinkel Publications has published a lovely series of books about exploring the Northwest Coast. Titles include Where is Mouse Woman?, Goodnight World, and Learn & Play with First Nations and Native Art. The images in these books are beautiful and very eye-catching for young children. Many of these stories are great for toddlers as there are lots of labels and not too much text.

How to adapt for the older preschool child? Try describing the pictures in more detail, or have the child make up a story for the images on the page. The picture provides them with a topic and allows them to practice using different kinds of sentences. It also gives the adult a chance to provide additional information that might not be in the book.

One of my personal favourites featuring a Northwest story is the book Raven: A Tricktser Tale from the Pacific Northwest, by Gerald McDermott. This book is a recounting of a traditional Haida story of how the sun came to be. The story is beautifully written but can be a bit long for some preschool children. Try simplifying the story, sticking only to the key elements (this means you will have to preread and do a bit of planning). As your child grows, you can add in more of the story or choose just a few pages (whichever ones your child is interested in) to discuss.

The great thing about books is there are many ways to read them. Feel free to be flexible in your story time to make whichever books you like work for you and your child.


Learn more about Northern Health’s Speech and Language Program.

Jackie Taylor

About Jackie Taylor

Jackie is a speech and language pathologist living and working in Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii. She grew up on the opposite coast (Saint John, New Brunswick) and graduated from McGill University in 2011. When she isn’t working, Jackie enjoys running and taking her dog for swims in the ocean.

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Fatherhood, community, and culture: Reflections on parenting in Prince Rupert with Duane Jackson

Duane Jackson and daughter

Between his professional and personal life, Duane Jackson has had the opportunity to glean a great deal of wisdom with a child-centred focus.

Duane Jackson has worn many hats in his years serving children and families on the Northwest Coast. His many positions held include former Aboriginal Coordinator for Success by Six and Regional Coordinator for Children First. He now works with the Hecate Strait Employment Development Society as a Trainer/Facilitator and Employment Counsellor. Jackson is also co-chair on the Aboriginal Steering Committee with the Human Early Learning Partnership.

Most importantly, Jackson is a family man – he and his wife are the proud parents of three children. Between his professional and personal life, Duane Jackson has had the opportunity to glean a great deal of wisdom with a child-centred focus.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I grew up on the Northwest Coast, but I’m Gitanmaax from Old Hazelton. I actually lived at one of the fishing canneries, North Pacific Cannery on Inverness Passage, when it was an operating cannery – now it’s a museum! I’ve been in Prince Rupert the majority of my life, grade 3 on, and went to high school here.

When I was 26, I met my wife, Christine, and we’ve been together for 23 years now. We have three children, a 17-year-old, a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old.

As a father of three, what have you found most unexpected in fatherhood?

I didn’t expect it to be the humbling experience that it was. I realized right from the birth of my first child that the importance of this job was so completely over and above anything that I understood in my life at that point. This small individual was going to encompass me so completely. With my first boy, with Caleb – I actually never put him down once! I carried him everywhere. I never put him in a buggy or a stroller; I carried him. He was in my arms all the time.

The biggest thing was the level of humility that was required, and the beauty of that was how much growth was involved in that process because of the fact that if you don’t embrace that humility, it will totally uproot you.

You graduated from college at age 40 and immediately began your work in serving children and families. How do your life experiences and education combine in your approach to your life and work?

Throughout my Early Childhood Education learning, the one thing that really got me was advocacy. But then of course, according to my culture, as a Gitanmaax person, I must advocate for children. Every child within my society is my responsibility. Not every Gitanmaax child, every child. My culture speaks to it, and as an Early Childhood Educator, my code of conduct speaks to it as well, that every child is my responsibility.

Prince Rupert harbour front

For Duane, Prince Rupert’s many activities and diverse population make it a healthy community for kids. Access to activities, however, can be a challenge.

What makes Prince Rupert a healthy community for children?

We have many activities for children, from minor league soccer and basketball, to the recreation centre for more activities. But we must remember that Prince Rupert is leading the province in unemployment. There is a huge societal barrier to accessing some of these activities. It’s not just Indigenous people who believe these programs just aren’t for them. It’s societal. In Canada we have the lowest percentage, globally, of children and families who access community programming.

We see a lot of families out at some great community events here: the Halloween Fest, the Winter Fest, the Children’s Festival … you see all generations of families out together, from the elders down to the smallest children.

One of the things I am always excited to see is children from diverse backgrounds who speak their language. Not just Indigenous languages, but all cultural groups. When they speak the language of their parents, I think that’s really exciting. You see that a lot here in Prince Rupert because there are many ethnicities represented here.

In your opinion, what small things do you do, that others can do, that may have big impacts in supporting healthy childhoods?

I think it’s in doing things together – doing activities together – and getting kids off of the computer. Getting kids off of screens! We’re steadily raising a generation of young people that will not have the ability to communicate effectively and positively. There’s just no amount of emoticons that you are going to attach to a text message that are actually going to tell me how you feel. This is starting younger and younger. You can go to a restaurant and see a family of four where all four people are on screens, no one is having a conversation. At our table here at home, where we have dinner together every night, there are no phones. My phone goes away. I have that deal with my family – and we talk. At the table – no one is watching TV!

These are the pieces – do things together, be involved, be supportive. And not just going out and watching your children do their activities. One of the most exciting things for me this year was having my daughter come and watch me coach basketball. She would come and watch my team play, and watch me coach. Bring your children with you into a social setting so that they can see how you are in that setting. All of us are different in our own homes than in a social setting. I think the secret is to get your children out with you in social events.

Knowing what you know now – if you were to go back to those early years with your children – what would you try to do more of with them?

Play, play, play. Hold onto them as much as possible, which is what I do now – even with the older boy and my 14-year-old. Squash ’em, squash ’em, squash ’em as much as I can! And never show them anger. I can show them disappointment, I tell my children I can be disappointed with your decisions, but at no time, ever, are you a disappointment.

If I were to go back, punishment would go out the door. I would go with restorative justice. I would walk, and talk, and teach and do nothing else but that.

If I was to talk to a parent, or talk to myself when I was a new parent, I’d tell them just to love and give and respect your children unconditionally. To give them these three things throughout our lives together and expect nothing in return. That’s what I would do … and advise.


This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about child health in the Summer 2016 issue:

Andrea Palmer

About Andrea Palmer

Andrea Palmer is a Communications Advisor with the Health Promotions Team at Northern Health. Born and raised in southern B.C., Andrea now embraces the North in large part for all the fun, healthy activities and opportunities uniquely accessible in our region including snowboarding, cross-country skiing, outdoor skating, wild berry picking, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, fishing and the bracing experience of jogging in the snow!

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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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Celebrating Aboriginal Awareness Week and holistic approaches to health

seaweed, Aboriginal health, healthy eating

Seaweed is left in the sun and open air to dry (Kitkatla, 2011).

Aboriginal Awareness Week was introduced in 1992 as a week to acknowledge and celebrate Aboriginal peoples and the many Aboriginal cultures in Canada, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

In northern British Columbia, the landscape is home to many diverse Aboriginal peoples, territories, languages, and cultures. Across the north, approximately 18 per cent of the total population is Aboriginal. The majority of Aboriginal peoples in northern B.C. are First Nations (approximately 75 per cent), followed by Métis who make up approximately 22 per cent of the Aboriginal population. Less than one per cent is Inuit and approximately three per cent identify as other Aboriginal identity. The largest First Nations population is in the northwest and the largest Métis population is in the northeast.

In 2012, Northern Health invited First Nations and Aboriginal people and groups to participate in regional discussions about holistic health. From this, we learned about holistic health from a northern Indigenous perspective. For many Indigenous peoples, holistic health is based on a relational worldview. At the heart of this view is an understanding that all things are connected and in relationship to one another. Land, water, air, animals, individuals, families, and communities are all connected and related.

At the heart of holistic health is an understanding that all things are connected and in relationship to one another.

Cultural activities and teachings are an important part of holistic health; language is central. These activities and teachings affirm resilience and a sense of belonging to a collective culture and community. Collective activities provide opportunities for relationship building and learning. Individual actions to achieve holistic health include living a life based on relational values as well as actions that include respect for oneself and others.

To create a shared understanding of a holistic vision of wellness, the First Nations Health Authority has developed the First Nations Perspective on Wellness. To learn more, visit fnha.ca.

Individual actions to achieve holistic health include living a life based on relational values as well as actions that include respect for oneself and others.

Northern Health is committed to partnering with First Nations and Aboriginal peoples and to building a health system that honours diversity and provides services in a culturally respectful manner. To learn more, visit: northernhealth.ca/YourHealth/AboriginalHealth.aspx. From there, you can access more information on holistic health in a Northern Health report called All That Heals: Discussions on holistic health in northern BC.

What are some ways you think your health is connected to other things?

 

The author would like to acknowledge Hilary McGregor, knowledge translation and community engagement lead, Aboriginal Health, Northern Health for her contributions to this blog post.

Margo Greenwood

About Margo Greenwood

Dr. Margo Greenwood is the Vice-President of Aboriginal Health at Northern Health. Margo is deeply invested in the health and well-being of Indigenous children, families and communities. As a mother of three, she is personally committed to the continued well-being of children and youth in Canada. Margo also has two big dogs that keep her active. She is a long-distance walker and has completed several half-marathon walks.

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Ts’uhoont’l Whuzhadel – Welcome – Bienvenue

Lheidli: “where the two rivers flow together”

T’enneh: “the People”

First Nations art on building depicting a heart with the words: "The Spirit of the Heart Welcomes our Canadian Athletes".

For the first time ever, the Canada Games have an Official Host First Nation. The 2015 Canada Winter Games are taking place on the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh.

It seems that Prince George is a national leader once again! For the first time ever, the First Nation on whose territory the Canada Winter Games are being held has been invited to co-host the Games and has participated fully as a true partner and Host First Nation. The flag of the Lheidli T’enneh people flies proudly alongside all of the flags that celebrate the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George; equally represented.

However, this partnership is more than just the symbolism of flags. The 2015 Canada Winter Games organizers have been immersed in the practical and nitty-gritty details of pulling off a successful winter games event – such as making sure speedskaters had the right safety bumpers and that partners like Northern Health could help ensure top-notch medical response and first aid readiness. Yet at the same time, they also worked hard in this new arena of building a meaningful relationship with the keepers of the traditional territory. In finding the proper and respectful ways to work together with a local First Nation, the 2015 Canada Winter Games Committee has made sure the first ever Host First Nation experience in Prince George has set the bar for all others to follow!

The Dakelh (Carrier) people have lived upon this land for untold centuries and were frequently hosts to gatherings. Thus, hosting an event at the place “where the two rivers flow together” is not a new experience for the local First Nation! Traditional protocols observe and respect the roles of both host and visitor. While these protocols have governed relations on the land for centuries they are still fresh and useful in the modern world. The Lheidli T’enneh have brought these ancient skills to the modern venue of the Canada Winter Games.

The story of a journey – the theme of the winter games and the heart of the opening ceremonies – also honoured the lives and history of the people of Lheidli T’enneh for their tens of centuries of living on this land. The contributions of Dakelh people are seen throughout these games. The work of Dakelh artists are evident everywhere, from the broad sweep of the shapes and colours in the official 2015 Canada Winter Games banners lining the streets to the fine details of the medals and from the wraps surrounding the pillars at the Civic Plaza to the shop windows of downtown businesses. This generous sharing of Carrier culture marked and deepened the experience of the Games for visitors and residents alike.

In the heart of downtown Prince George, often seen as a troublesome area in need of revitalization, the Lheidli T’enneh pavilion has anchored an ongoing warm winter welcome offered by Prince George and the Host First Nation. Sharing food, music and culture is the life blood here in the pavilion. The sound of drums and the performances by talented musicians and singers surrounded by food and history and culture resonates and draws in visitors. So much so that if you want to be in the audience for the 9:30 performance, I was told by a laughing greeter, “you had better be in a seat by 8:30.”

In every case where the Lheidli T’enneh have walked in the Games, the power and significance of the Games has been magnified. The opening ceremonies spoke to all who call this fair land home. The story of the river and the people was laid down, followed by the railroad and highway. The athletes walked these pathways as they entered, and by walking the symbolic land, the stage was set for the ceremonies. All nations were represented in the opening ceremonies but the centre-piecing of the Lheidli T’enneh opened the eyes of viewers to the depth and richness of Dakelh culture. The overall impression – that Prince George has got talent – was obvious. From Tristan Ghostkeeper’s athletic artistry to the little ones who sang and bounced for joy in their performances, to the pride of Chief Frederick, the message was clear: you don’t need to spend a ton of money on big name acts to move people to tears of pride. You just need to look at those amongst whom you live and see the gifts in the place that we call home.

The Games celebrate winter – one of the two seasons in northern B.C. (winter and not winter!) – in a profound way: by bringing young athletes to a national stage where they can ply their sport on snow or ice. In this shared space – a place where all eyes focus on youth and their future – we have found a way to be together honourably, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, as hosts to the Games.

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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Getting your feet back on a natural path

Agnes picking berries

Agnes picking berries and enjoying nature near Prince George.

How often do you get back to nature? Returning to nature has therapeutic benefits for our health. Research shows access to nature is important to the healthy development of children and very important to the mental and physical health of adults. In many larger communities, people have difficulty finding places to enjoy time with nature, or perhaps they can’t afford the travel or the time to get away.

In northern B.C., we do have some advantages in this regard. Many of our communities are surrounded by nature’s majesty and accessing places to enjoy time in a natural environment is relatively easy. Even in our larger centres, getting to the river’s edge is often only a matter of a quick walk.

Aboriginal communities have many lessons to share about enjoying nature in ways that improve our health and well-being. Looking to the land as a guide and as a provider is still the backbone of Aboriginal culture. Many of our friends and colleagues who are of Aboriginal ancestry return to the land regularly. They also do this particularly in the late summer and early fall for berry picking, and for hunting and fishing. These expeditions don’t just feed the family of the hunter or gatherer, they feed many in the community, as hunters will present parts of the hunt or of the catch to the Elders and other families in their communities.

A basket of berries.

Have you ever tried gathering berries near your community?

Berry picking is a bit back-breaking but really worth it. The skills to work with foods we have picked directly from the earth are dying out but many people, both Aboriginal and non–Aboriginal, female and male, carry on the traditions of processing and preserving food from the land for themselves. Berries are a great example of how, with labour on our part, the bounty of the earth can be transformed and feed our families: berries will reappear throughout the winter baked in pies, as jams, jellies and syrups or dried in baking and snacks. Frozen blueberries may show up in muffins or pancakes in January. The burst of tart sweetness will bring back the scent of summer in an instant. The brightness of the day you knelt among low bush blueberries, with the sun on your back and the sound of honey bees surrounding you will flood your memory and warm a cold winter’s day with the promise of summer. In fact, the berry’s life cycle is the story of a perfect circle of returning to the land and finding satisfaction, physically, emotionally and nutritionally.

The story the humble berry tells us is that the land can give us more than just food and can feed people in more ways than just physically. Nature can also feed our spirit and soul.

Where do you go to enjoy nature? What are your favourite pursuits outside of the city?  Let’s share our stories of how to enjoy nature in a healthy way.

[Editor’s note: Don’t forget to enter the Healthy Living Week 4 Challenge and tell us about how you source local food for your chance to win a great mini freezer!]

Agnes Snow

About Agnes Snow

Agnes is Northern Health’s regional director of Aboriginal health. She started her career in health as a licensed practical nurse in Vancouver, and then moved back to her home community of Canoe Creek where she worked as an additions counselor and then as an elected leader. Agnes originally came to Northern Health as a counselor and treatment therapist at the Nechako Treatment Centre, and then moved to Aboriginal health as the Community Engagement Coordinator, before taking on her current role.

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Food: Much more than nutrition

Husking corn

Food prep can be a way to bring people together.

I’ve been following this month’s healthy living blog posts with great interest. I enjoy making efforts to live a healthy and active lifestyle and it makes me feel at home to see how other people are taking strides to do the same thing.

However, I’ve read a million times in a million places the message that “food is fuel” – we need healthy food to fuel our bodies with high-quality energy and nutrients. I’ve also heard the message that if the food is sourced close to home, then it’s a better choice for my community. The message that I feel is missing so far is that food is more than fuel.

Food is pleasurable; it’s a reflection of culture and plays a role in traditions and social settings. It can tantalize our senses with different tastes, smells, and textures. The Northern Health guidelines (position paper) on healthy eating also recognize this. Quoting a 2005 study from the Canadian Journal of Public Health on Aboriginal traditions, the paper notes:

…the consumption of traditional foods is more than just about eating; it is the endpoint of a series of culturally meaningful processes involved in the harvesting, processing, distribution, and preparation of these foods.

My family and I harvest and prepare foods together; in the summer we have a garden and, while it may or may not be fruitful, I enjoy the time that we spend together caring for the plants and watching them grow. Even if we are “harvesting” our food from the grocery store, I enjoy that time together, considering the food we’re buying and how we’re going to prepare it. Preparing and serving the food to family and friends serves as a gathering for conversations and sharing that may not happen otherwise.

Thinking about the pleasure that food can give us, I don’t know if there is a silver bullet solution to finding the balance between food as pleasure and food as fuel. However, I have learned a couple ways to help me find balance:

  • Exercise control (when you have it) – Most days (e.g. routine work days) I make every effort to eat the quality fuel we talk about from Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Savour social settings – Other days we have events or opportunities to savour things we may not get to on a regular basis (e.g. birthday parties or when travelling). In these settings, I take the opportunity to enjoy the pleasurable side of food (with moderation in mind).

This balance between exercising control and savouring the opportunities helps me to enjoy the pleasurable side of food and my physical and emotional well-being. What are some ways that you balance eating for health and eating for pleasure?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.

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