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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Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre officially open!

Individuals put messages into a wooden time capsule.

Dr. Charles Jago, Northern Health Board Chair; Anne Desrosiers, Burns Lake Nurse Practitioner; Jerry Petersen, Acting Chair of the Stuart Nechako Regional Hospital District; Health Minister Terry Lake; Dan George, Burns Lake Band Chief; and John Rustad, MLA Nechako Lakes and Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation celebrate putting their messages in the time capsule that will be opened in 25 years to remember the grand opening celebration for the new Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre.

The new $55 million Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre is officially open and accepting patients! The project was completed ahead of schedule and on-budget.

The new hospital has 16 beds and will provide acute care and emergency services, diagnostic imaging, lab services, and pharmacy. A medical clinic will offer primary, outpatient and acute care, along with the delivery of mental health and addictions and public health, as well as home- and community-care services. The facility is a two-storey building totalling approximately 6,100 square metres (65,000 square feet). The hospital is a green and energy-efficient facility designed to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold certification.

The project was officially announced in April 2012, and the first big milestone was the move of the old nurses’ residence that December. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on April 12, 2013 as excavation of the site began. Construction started in January 2014 with substantial completion of the hospital in December 2014.

You can see a video from the grand opening event held on January 22, 2015 below.

This year will see landscaping, demolition of the old facility, and paving of the new parking lots. The move to the new building will take place in phases. The transfer of existing hospital services and primary care services is now complete and the transfer of a few other services, such as the occupancy of physicians’ offices, is expected later in 2015.

PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc. built the new Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre. The total project cost of $55 million was shared between the Government of British Columbia and Stuart Nechako Regional Hospital District.

Jonathon Dyck

About Jonathon Dyck

Jonathon is a communications officer at Northern Health. Originally from Airdrie, Alberta, Jonathon has a broadcasting diploma from Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta, and a BA with a major in communications from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. Jonathon enjoys golf, hockey, curling, hiking, biking, and canoeing. He is also an avid sports fan and attends as many sporting events as humanly possible, including hockey, soccer, baseball, football, rugby, basketball, and lacrosse. (Jonathon no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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