Healthy Living in the North

Diversity and culture: celebrating Two-Spirit people

Two eaglesWhen my aunt was born, the elders of my community knew that she was different from her siblings. They said, “take care of him, he is special.”

I knew about Two-Spirit people since I was little girl. My mother took me to my first Pride parade in Vancouver when I was 10. She didn’t explain anything about it other than that it was a Pride parade. I remember the colours, the music, and the number of happy, beautiful people dancing in the parade. My cousins, who were also there, didn’t understand it. They were my age, and being boys raised in a heteronormative home, the thought of boys being with other boys was “icky.” But I didn’t mind, I just seen love! I was more offended about how close-minded my cousins seemed to me. Looking back at it, my cousins and I grew up very differently. My parents were always open-minded, and raised me to be as well.

That’s why I feel so passionately about the inclusion, acknowledgement, and awareness of Two-Spirit people – not only in the LGBTQ family, but in the general public as well. Two-Spirit is a term that spans western categorizations of gender, sex, and sexuality, holding diverse cultural and individual meaning (see page 5 of Dr. Sarah Hunt’s publication). “2S” people are also a minority within an already marginalized group of peoples. The numbers of 2S people who face racial and sexual discrimination, violence, suicide, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS infection are gargantuan in comparison to their counterparts (page 15-17). This has been well-documented and summarized in the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health‘s recent literature review, An Introduction to the Health of Two-Spirit People: Historical, contemporary, and emergent issues.

Written by Dr. Sarah Hunt, the goal of the paper is to introduce the historical, contemporary and emergent issues related to Two-Spirit peoples’ health. The paper does what it is intended to do while explaining gender, sex, sexuality; defining Two-Spirit Indigeneity; and addressing the impact of colonialism on Two-Spirit people. While this may seem daunting, I assure you that Hunt lays out the issues solidly with clarity and ease. For me, the strength of the paper emanates from the sections Social Determinants of Health: Understanding the Colonial Context (section 3) and Resiliency and Resurgence of Two-Spirit Roles (section 6). Hunt weaves colonial history with the modern day issue of “systemic invisibility” (page 12) which 2S people feel in society as a result of this history.

As the opening of this blog indicates, the elders of my community knew about my aunt before she transitioned. They could tell she was an exceptional person from the day she was born. She struggled through her life quite a bit, overcoming a lot of prejudice, judgement, and violence as a First Nations person. When she decided to transition, it seemed that this adversity amplified. She is a human being with a big heart, and she seems more at peace with who she truly is, regardless of the hardships.

My hope is that we are able to come together and support one another regardless of issues or judgements – and this hope has grown from empathy for those who passed away and were wounded at the recent shootings in Orlando, in which 50 people at a gay nightclub were killed in a mass shooting, just because of who they were and are. In Prince George, the Northern Pride Society held a vigil on June 13, 2016, in memory of those who passed, were injured, and were affected by this shooting.

On the other side of the scale, people are buzzing about the upcoming Pride Parade taking place here in Prince George on July 9. Elsewhere in northern B.C., Quesnel Pride took place last month and Fort St. John had a Pride Walk just two weeks ago. In Dawson Creek, Pride is celebrated in October. Everywhere, these are days of celebration, solidarity, and pride for allies and the LGBTQ2S family. What is happening in your community?

There is also a new health resource for trans people in northern B.C. located in Prince George. If you or someone you know is looking for care or more information, please contact the Northern Transgender Health Clinic.

I strongly recommend reading the NCCAH report on Two-Spirit peoples’ health; it gives an amazing introduction to terminology and methods. The entire report is important not only to health professionals, but to everyone in society. Just because we don’t understand someone doesn’t mean we get to dehumanize them. Two-Spirit people, in my opinion, need society’s loving embrace to facilitate stronger ties between each of us as human beings. These relationships create better futures, opportunities, and qualities of life for all those involved.

Shalane Pauls

About Shalane Pauls

Shalane Pauls is the 2016 Aboriginal Health Summer Student Intern. She has an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and a minor in First Nations Studies. Recently, she was accepted to the Master’s Program in First Nations Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC). Shalane is from the Tsimshian and Tahltan Nations and was raised in Terrace, where she completed her first two years at Northwest Community College before coming to UNBC. When not in the office, she enjoys beading, biking, and gardening. Shalane is passionate about Indigenous rights and issues, and enjoys bringing this enthusiasm to her work space.

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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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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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Introducing a unique book on Indigenous determinants of health

Two book editors sitting behind poster of book cover.

What began as a casual conversation over breakfast is now a valuable book on Indigenous determinants of health. Photo courtesy of UNBC.

Have you ever had one of those “aha!” moments over morning toast and coffee? I’m so glad that three B.C. scholars had one such moment back in 2011! Because of their exchange of ideas over a casual breakfast, we now have access to a unique new collection of Indigenous perspectives on health and well-being in northern B.C. and Canada more broadly. I’m excited to tell you about it!

I will begin by introducing the concept of social determinants of health. According to the World Health Organization, they are “the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels” and “are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status” between groups.

To set the stage, by 2011 when the book was first imagined, a “social determinants of health” framework was increasingly accepted as important for understanding why different groups of people have different health outcomes and why this is unfair. But there were also limits to the conversations, particularly as they related to Indigenous peoples’ health. For example, colonialism was yet to be fully and consistently recognized as a significant determinant of Indigenous peoples’ health. As well, much of the research on the social determinants of Indigenous peoples’ health was a subsection of broader work instead of a unique area for sustained focus. And it was often conducted by non-Indigenous people.

So, casually over breakfast at a conference one autumn morning in 2011, Drs. Margo Greenwood, Sarah de Leeuw and Charlotte Loppie (Reading) conceived of an idea for a ground-breaking book that would address these limits. It would be about a broader understanding of determinants of Indigenous health in Canada and it would be a unique compilation of ideas, perspectives, and stories written primarily by Indigenous people. The three of them decided over breakfast to work together to make that book a reality!

They began to brainstorm Indigenous scholars, activists, clinicians, and community leaders who would likely have something to say about First Nations, Métis and Inuit well-being in Canada. Sometime later, after chapters had begun to pour in, Indigenous artists were also invited to contribute works that sought to creatively illuminate questions about Indigenous health. Poems, short stories, and reproductions of contemporary totem poles were added to the research contributions.

And then, in August this year, what started as a breakfast chat was published as Determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada: Beyond the Social, edited by Greenwood, de Leeuw, Reading and Lindsay (Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2015). This book is an invitation to think about health inequities lived by Indigenous people in Canada through the voices, stories and experiences of Indigenous people.

Explaining why this book is important, Greenwood said:

These are stories that document resilience, strength, and solutions from a health context, offering a richness of information far beyond what we would ordinarily see in discussions centred only on the basic social determinants of health.

In de Leeuw’s words:

What makes this book special is that it is has been written by Indigenous people about Indigenous people and their viewpoints on health. It also provides an artistic lens on health issues rarely seen in academic medical texts. The book includes creative voice in the form of poems, stories and other art that provide a unique and serious reflection on health status.

I wanted to share this book with you because these issues impact all of us and I believe that a better understanding of Indigenous perspectives of health and well-being can make a difference in all of our work, our communities, and our lives!


Determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada: Beyond the Social can be ordered through your local bookstore or online through Canadian Scholars’ Press. The book was supported through the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health (NCCAH) with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

All royalties from the book are going to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

Media Coverage

This blog post was informed by an article from the NCCAH.

Hilary McGregor

About Hilary McGregor

Hilary is the Lead of Knowledge Translation and Community Engagement for Aboriginal Health. She feels privileged to work for Northern Health, particularly within this department, because she gets to apply her passion for creativity, critical thinking, and quality to important issues related to health equity for Indigenous people in the north. Hilary is grateful for the opportunity to live on the beautiful traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh in Prince George, where she keeps busy renovating an older home, playing with her young nephew and niece, walking her feisty chihuahua, gardening and taking in the surrounding outdoors.

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2014 All Native Basketball Tournament: More than a sporting event

Basketball painted with First Nations art

The 2015 All Native Basketball Tournament runs from Feb. 8-14 in Prince Rupert. In addition to the high-performance sport, the tournament is a place for connection, community, health, and culture to come together.

Unity, pride, and community: these are the off-court principles that push the All Native Basketball Tournament to its inarguable success. Held in Prince Rupert every February, 2014’s event drew thousands of spectators and 56 basketball teams from aboriginal communities across the north. Being held for over 50 years, it has the honour of being the longest-held sports event in B.C.

It is a destination and focus for northern communities, as the prestige associated with the tournament encourages healthy choices by team members, their families and supporters in the run-up to the games themselves. For many communities, the annual trip to the tournament is an important social and cultural event as they can gather with friends and families from other remote communities. The sport and cultural atmosphere is a powerful connection and place of belonging for the communities and Nations who attend.

Northern Health tobacco reduction sign that reads: "Basketball Yes, Tobacco No"

Northern Health has been involved in the All Native Basketball Tournament since 2006. If you are at the tournament this year, stop by and say hello!

Northern Health is proud to be part of the event since 2006, which started with one lone table on tobacco reduction. Since then, Northern Health’s presence has grown alongside of the tournament. In the past, we have offered a more clinical service through the offering of health screenings. In 2014, we sponsored and hosted a quiet space furnished with cozy furniture and low lighting. This space offered a retreat where Elders could rest in comfort, nursing moms could feed their babies in peace, and traditional stories were shared. Health screenings were still offered, but the focus was on the gathering and comforting space, rather than the clinical space. The space was reflective of supporting a complete healthy community; a way of integrating social and cultural gathering with health services. While the tournament is an important contributor to the health and well-being of northern First Nations, in 2014, for the first time, people spoke of the tournament as a place where, sport, culture and health comes together.


This article was co-authored by Theresa Healy and Doreen Bond and originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of A Healthier You.

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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National Aboriginal Day: A celebration of family and culture

June 21 was National Aboriginal Day – a day for Northern Aboriginal groups to come together and celebrate their culture and achievements.

NH reps at Aboriginal Day

L-R: Julia Stephenson, Joan Greenlees and Laura Johnston were three of the NH representatives talking to people about health and wellness at the Aboriginal Day celebrations.

Fort George Park, the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, was the site of celebrations in Prince George this year, and I dropped by in the morning to visit the folks at the Northern Health booth and catch the opening remarks. It was 10:30a.m. but already the sun was hot and there was a crowd milling about the local organizations’ booths (I saw Canadian Red Cross, UNBC, and the Northern BC First Nations HIV/AIDS Coalition, to name a few), and food and craft vendors.

I was welcomed at the Northern Health booth by Laura Johnston, a tobacco reduction coordinator from Population Health; Joan Greenlees, executive assistant for Northern Cancer Control Strategy and Aboriginal Health; and Julia Stephenson, an SFU practicum student working on her master’s degree in Public Health, who were all there to share information about NH public health and population health services, like healthy eating and quitting smoking.

“It’s good to have so many groups come together,” said Stephenson, who was happy to be helping Northern Health share health and wellness information with the public at the event. “The Aboriginal community is important and we want to celebrate everything they’re doing for our area.”

Bloodborne pathogens team

Trish Howard and Sandra Barnes were representing the NH bloodborne pathogens team, raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Next to the NH booth were some representatives of the new HIV101 campaign. I met Trish Howard, the Aboriginal Coordinator for the blood borne pathogens integration team, and Sandra Barnes, an HIV designate nurse. They were both in attendance to raise awareness and educate people about HIV/AIDS with the goal of reducing the stigma around the disease.

“Our biggest thing is getting the message out – HIV is not a death sentence,” said Barnes. “Early diagnosis is key – so get tested. If you’re sexually active, get tested.”

Barnes shared a frightening statistic: 25% of people that have HIV don’t know they have it, and it’s believed that this 25% is responsible for up to 75% of new infections.

“You can’t stop the spread if you don’t know, but we have everything to control it.” Barnes said being at events like the Aboriginal Day celebrations is important for their initiative because when you bring people together for a common goal, it’s easier to talk about difficult things when it’s out in the public.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Louella Nome, a community health rep and band councillor for Lheidli T’enneh. I asked her about the importance of events like this celebration to her community.

“It’s great – it’s about bringing people together and unity,” Nome said. “It’s building bridges – our strength comes in numbers.” She was excited to have a lot of family members together in one place.

And that’s really what the day was all about – celebrating family and being together.

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.

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