Healthy Living in the North

Healthy schools matter

Once again the summer has whizzed by and it’s time to think about the new school year! Hopefully you enjoyed a healthy, happy summer and had a chance to share what wellness means to you.

A couple weeks ago, Emilia shared information about school nutrition but there is so much more to healthy schools! A healthy school is one that creates a healthy setting for learning, playing, and working. Students have opportunities in all parts of their school experience to develop healthy habits, including physical, mental, social and intellectual.

Comprehensive School Health

Northern Health has adopted the internationally recognized Comprehensive School Health framework that is promoted provincially by Healthy Schools BC. In this approach, it is not just about what happens in the classroom; it involves the whole school environment, addressing four interrelated areas of focus:

  • Social and Physical Environment
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Partnerships and Services
  • Healthy School Policy

When the school’s actions are coordinated across these areas, the impact on student health and learning is so much greater. Here are some benefits of this flexible and adaptable approach:

  • Better health & well-being for students, educators & staff
  • Increased feelings of support from school
  • Improved behaviours and healthy choices at home & in the community
  • Increased understanding of connections between curriculum and real life

Healthy Schools in Action

Think this all sounds complicated? Here are some examples of schools across the north that are leveraging grants to fund some great health related projects that show Comprehensive School Health in action.

Chetwynd

The Chetwynd Social Planning Society partnered with the Moberly Lake after school program to provide opportunities for children to learn drumming.

Valemount

The Valemount Elementary School Parent Advisory Council (PAC) purchased snowshoes for students to borrow so they can get outside for fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.

Skidegate

The Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary School in Skidegate purchased needed supplies & equipment for teaching students to grow and preserve food.

These are just a few great examples! Many northern schools have shared their success stories with Healthy Schools BC. Visit Healthy Schools BC for more stories about healthy schools in our region!

 

Heather Ouellette

About Heather Ouellette

Heather is a Registered Nurse currently working in Population Health as the Regional Nursing Lead, Healthy Schools. Past work experiences include Public Health and teaching nursing at UNBC and in a previous life in Edmonton, home care and acute care nursing. When not outside adventuring with her friends and dogs, she likes to play in her garden during summer and sew quilts and garments in winter.

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Overdose Prevention: Northern BC’s Naloxone Champions

Thursday, August 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), a day that aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related death. Since the recent rise in overdose deaths, Northern Health staff and physicians, as well as community partners, have responded quickly in providing take home naloxone training and naloxone kits to people at risk of overdose as well as their friends and family members.

In 2017 alone, records show 105 naloxone kits refilled in northern B.C. – that’s 105 kits used and 105 lives saved thanks to training and dispensing taking place in our region!

Over the course of the last year, staff at the 41 take home naloxone sites across northern B.C. have had diverse experiences and developed unique strategies to get naloxone kits into the hands of those who need them. We want to share one of these experiences now, from the Intensive Case Management Team in the northwest.

team van, naloxone

Part of the NW Intensive Case Management Team

In what ways do you work with community members?
First and foremost, our team is non-judgmental and comes from a place of caring and support for individuals experiencing difficulties with substance use, regardless of their history. We work at street level with many clients, building rapport over time, providing wellness checks, harm reduction supplies, and supporting clients with access to various services. Our team also attends shelters, clients’ homes, and conducts meetings within the office as well, based on what the community member is comfortable with. For some community members, it takes time for trust to form to ask for services, including take home naloxone or harm reduction supplies.

What’s the message to your audience?
We try to convey that our intentions come from a place of caring and that we hope to help keep them healthy and safe, not to judge or push for a change that they may not want or be ready for. We’re humble and recognize the immense value of lived experience in the work we do.

Our team tries to be flexible and take the direction from the individual we’re working with and support them in their journey, whatever journey that may be. We help empower them to access resources based on their own choices to reduce harms, and our team truly believes in the work they’re doing and the people they engage with.

How do you train people to use naloxone and/or when dispensing kits?
It really depends on the audience, but we maintain that we’re adaptable and that the client can take the lead. This means to be effective, sometimes our strategies toward naloxone training have to be pretty fluid.

Recreating life-like scenarios dealing with overdose, similar to if you were learning CPR training, has been an effective way of teaching individuals the steps to how to handle an overdose scenario. Diving into the realities of what people may see if they witness or come across someone who has overdosed can be unsettling, so we make sure to create a safe space for individuals to ask questions and practice drawing up and injecting the medication. Take home naloxone is comparable to having a first aid kit, and our team respects a person’s privacy around their use of it or the use of it on someone close to them.

Our most important training assets, of course, are our amazing peers who champion take home naloxone. They hand out their cards, nurture relationships with the at-risk population, and let them know where they can get naloxone, training, and other resources. They work within the community and seize any opportunity to offer naloxone training and kits!

naloxone kit overdose

Naloxone kits are easy to carry, and include application instructions.

Can you tell us about the experience you’ve had when developing community partnerships to dispense naloxone?
The support we’ve received from community partnerships has been awesome. We started building relationships within the community by going out and introducing our team, and then created a space for collaborative dialogue amongst Northern Health partners and other community agencies. Our team provides support to community agencies if they are wanting assistance navigating naloxone information and access to take home naloxone kits. In turn, the community service providers are able to alert us when a person is ready and willing to receive services.

We’re very thankful our partners have been open to welcoming us into their space to work alongside them in service provision, as this is where the clients are and feel most comfortable. Partnering with various agencies and various emergency responders has helped us better connect with individuals that may be at risk of overdose, which has proved to be invaluable when it comes to helping people in a timely manner.

Where can naloxone and other resources be found?
Naloxone kits are available to be dispensed for free to community members at risk for overdose and their friends and family members. The more naloxone kits we can get out into the community, the better equipped our community members are to respond to an overdose and save a life!

Harm Reduction Sites supply naloxone and other health and wellness resources – get to know the one in your community! Northern Health also has an Overdose Prevention page on their website that has lots of great overdose information, including how to recognize overdose and the SAVEME steps to help in an overdose situation.

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Growing breastfeeding-friendly communities: you can help!

breastfeeding mom on picnic bench

Nursing mothers have the right to breastfeed their children in a public area.

As a breastfeeding mother, I have received support from friends, family, health professionals, and community members. This was true in the early days, as my baby and I were getting the hang of breastfeeding, and it is still true today as I continue to nurse my toddler. While I have generally felt supported, I also know that mothers can face challenges when breastfeeding.

Promoting, protecting, and supporting breastfeeding is a responsibility shared by families, communities, health regions and policy makers. This means supporting individual mothers, as well as growing breastfeeding-friendly communities.

breastfeeding mom in barber shop

Is your business breastfeeding friendly?

A challenge a woman should not have to face is a lack of knowledge about her right to breastfeed. Did you know that women’s right to breastfeed is protected by law in British Columbia? As per B.C.’s Ministry of Justice:

  • Nursing mothers have the right to breastfeed their children in a public area
  • It is discriminatory to ask a mother to cover up or breastfeed somewhere else

Women’s right to breastfeed is not new, but it may not be common knowledge. A little education and respectful conversation can go a long way.

Are you wondering what you or your business can do to make northern communities breastfeeding friendly and safe?

Consider ordering a free breastfeeding decal from Northern Health! The “Growing for Gold” decal can be placed on a glass door or window to show a welcoming attitude and support for breastfeeding moms and babies. The decal also comes with helpful information that you can share with staff or clients/customers, including:

  • “All women have a right to breastfeed. Anytime. Anywhere.”
  • Tips for creating breastfeeding-friendly spaces
  • Responding to a family’s request for a more comfortable or private location
  • Managing customers who may express negative feelings towards public breastfeeding

    Growing for Gold Breastfeeding Friendly decal

    The Growing for Gold decal on your business window shares your support and welcome to breastfeeding moms and babies.

When you order a decal, your business/facility will be added to the list of Breastfeeding Friendly Places on the Growing for Gold website (join the recently signed up Telkwa General Store & Café and other northern B.C. businesses who have shown their support by requesting a decal!).

A decal is a small thing, but it sends an important message and supports a valuable conversation. Help us to grow breastfeeding-friendly communities across the north!

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise started her career as a dietitian with Northern Health in 2004 when she moved to Terrace "for a year." More than 10 years later, she is now part of the regional population health registered dietitian team and she continues to love living, working and playing in B.C.'s northwest. Lise enjoys playing outside with her husband and friends and you might find her skiing, biking or kiting. She’s passionate about local food, keeps a garden, enjoys local community-supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers market goodies, and carries out food preservation projects.

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Staying safe on the water this summer

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!


I was out on our boat last weekend and it was wonderful! I love the sound of the water splashing up against the boat, the warm sun on my face, the wind whipping through my hair, and the smell of fresh, clean air. I love watching the other boats go by; there is such a variety, from fishing boats, ski boats, and pontoon boats, to pedal boats, kayaks, canoes, and stand up boards. No matter what type of boat we come across, the one constant out on the lake is the happiness of those playing in, on, and near the water. The smiles, giggles, and friendly waves as we pass by are infectious and I feel connected to everyone who chooses to be out there.

children wearing lifejackets, fishing off boat

Close by isn’t close enough. Wear your lifejacket in, on, and around the water.

As I was sitting at the back of the boat, I was thinking about this sense of community that comes from a shared love of the fun and adventure of being out on the water. I care about my community and the people who help me feel connected to the joy of living in northern BC, and I believe every person deserves to stay safe every time they are out on the water. Just as seat belts and child safety seats are a key part of keeping us safe on the roads, lifejackets are critical to keeping us safe and keeping the water playtime fun.

Lifejackets save lives. They are like round-trip insurance. When everyone wears a lifejacket and the water fun is done for the day, everyone comes in safely. But, as the Canadian Red Cross highlights, of those who drown every year while boating, over 87% were not wearing a lifejacket when they drowned. Close by isn’t close enough.   Lifejackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs) are the accessory that everyone in the boat, on the water, by the dock, or at the water’s edge has to wear. It is important to wear the right size lifejacket for the right activity, every time, no matter how calm the water or how strong a swimmer you are.

children being pulled on a water tube

Lifejackets are critical to keeping everyone safe and keeping the water playtime fun. 

As we enjoy a summer of wellness, please join me in committing to keeping our communities and water fun safe. Wear your lifejacket or PFD every time you are out enjoying beautiful, natural northern BC.

For more tips on swimming, boating, and water safety, check out:

Denise Foucher

About Denise Foucher

Denise is an injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about working towards health and wellness for everyone in Northern B.C. When not at work, Denise can be found out at the lake, walking her dog, planning her next travel adventure, or snuggled in a cozy chair with a good book.

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Plug into Prince George: tapping into trail and friendship networks

boardwalk forest

Many trails around Prince George are accessible-including the Ancient Forest.

Running, walking, hiking, and biking have always been part of my life. When I moved to Prince George in the winter of 2005, I knew I needed to make friends with similar interests, so that spring, I took a “learn to trail run” class. Twelve years later, I’m still enjoying outdoor adventures with people I met in the class!

Over the years, our group has found many excellent trails in and around the city of Prince George to enjoy fresh air and exercise all year round. Often, our dogs accompany us so we make a rather large pack! We feel fortunate to live in a place with such accessible natural beauty.

For those who enjoy a nice stroll, brisk walk, or leisurely bike ride, you can find a list of accessible trails on the Prince George Tourism website. Many are fully accessible and suitable for those using wheelchairs or scooters, or for parents with children in strollers. Feeling ambitious? Complete the entire 11 km heritage river trail circuit for a trip through the city’s history. Ferguson Lake also has trails and docks so you can walk or canoe on site – it’s only 5 km from highway 97 & Chief Lake Road!

forest

Getting outside is a great way to unplug and recharge.

For more adventurous souls, there is the Cranbrook Hill Greenway and its connecting trails, Forest for the World, Otway Ski Centre, and Pidherny Trails. The trails are suitable for hiking, walking, running, or mountain biking – and they have great names like “Kitchen Sink” and “Espresso”. We have seen moose, bears, foxes, and an incredible variety of birds. Oh, yes, and wild blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries – hey, sometimes you need a snack when you’re out on the trail! Just be sure of what berry you are picking – if you don’t know, don’t eat it!

Feel like getting out of the city? How about a bike ride down Willow Cale Road to Buckhorn Lake for a picnic? It’s easy riding with minimal traffic. Want to venture a bit further? Check out the trails maintained by the Tabor Mountain Recreation Society – Dougherty Creek Mobility Trail is fully accessible!

kids posing by tree

Posing with Treebeard, the oldest tree in the ancient rain forest!

Want to make a day of it? Try a hike up Teapot Mountain or take a picnic down the highway to the Ancient Forest with its accessible boardwalk. I love taking my camera and photographing the interesting lichens, and mushrooms – and of course the obligatory shot of the kids standing by the oldest tree in the forest, Treebeard!

And just because the snow is long gone, don’t think these trails are only for summer use! Both Otway and Tabor Mountain have groomed cross-country ski trails in winter. Or break out the snowshoes on some of the connecting trails around the Greenway and Forest for the World. The area is just as beautiful in winter – and no bugs to bother you!

Where do you go to unplug and get active in your community? Do you have a favourite local trail? If you’re in Prince George, I hope to see you out this summer!


Last fall we asked our readers to share how they plug into their communities through the Great Northern Scavenger Hunt!  We received some amazing entries and information about how to get active and plug into communities all over northern BC. Check back for “Plug Into” posts featuring tips and suggestions from those submissions!

Heather Ouellette

About Heather Ouellette

Heather is a Registered Nurse currently working in Population Health as the Regional Nursing Lead, Healthy Schools. Past work experiences include Public Health and teaching nursing at UNBC and in a previous life in Edmonton, home care and acute care nursing. When not outside adventuring with her friends and dogs, she likes to play in her garden during summer and sew quilts and garments in winter.

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What can you do to support safe and inclusive school environments for children with food allergies?

The lunch bell rings and Johnny enthusiastically starts to eat his tuna salad sandwich, apple, cookie, and milk. As he is chatting with his friends, he suddenly starts to feel sick. His mouth feels itchy and his tummy starts to hurt. Johnny finds his teacher and tells her he is not feeling well. His teacher is aware that Johnny has a food allergy and recognizes the signs of a serious allergic reaction. She gives him life-saving medication and calls 9-1-1.

Students in classroom

Creating allergy-aware schools is everyone’s job! Students, parents, and schools all have a role to play!

May is Allergy Awareness Month: it’s a great time to talk about how we can create safe and inclusive environments for children with food allergies so they may safely eat, learn, and play.

In Canada, approximately 300,000 children have food allergies. The most common food allergens are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame, seafood, wheat, and sulphites. Anaphylaxis is the most serious type of allergic reaction and can be deadly if untreated.

As a dietitian who has supported families with an allergic child, I understand that keeping your child safe at school can seem like a daunting task. I have also come to understand that prevention is not enough. While some schools will ask parents not to send foods with certain allergens like peanuts to classrooms, it is important that students and schools have the knowledge and skills to respond to allergic emergencies appropriately. Creating allergy-aware schools is everyone’s job!

What can schools do?

All school boards are required to develop an allergy-aware policy as well as an individual anaphylaxis emergency plan for each student with a serious allergy. In addition, schools can:

  • Work with parents to develop realistic prevention strategies. For example, some schools have “allergy-aware” eating areas while other schools have specific rules about allergens in the classroom.
  • Support ongoing training for all staff including teachers, bus drivers, and food service staff.
  • Consider non-food items for some class and school celebrations.
  • Take steps to ensure students with allergies are not bullied or left out.
  • Raise awareness about food allergies in the classroom, at school assemblies, or consider running a school-wide allergy awareness challenge.

What can parents and caregivers of children with allergies do?

  • Inform your school about your child’s allergy.
  • Provide your school with epinephrine auto-injectors, if needed.
  • Plan ahead for field trips and special events.
  • Teach your child how to protect themselves and reduce risk of exposure.
  • Read food labels carefully every time you shop and be aware of cross-contamination.
  • Guide your child as they learn to take on more responsibility for managing their allergy.

What can children with allergies do?

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after eating.
  • Do not share food, utensils, or containers.
  • Be careful with food prepared by others.
  • Carry an epinephrine auto-injector at all times (by age 6 or 7 children are usually mature enough to do so).
  • Tell your friends about your allergies and what they should do in an allergic emergency.
  • Tell an adult as soon as you suspect an accidental exposure to an allergen.

Looking for more information about food allergies at school?

Here are a few of my top picks for resources and tools for parents, caregivers, or anyone working in and with schools:

Looking for personalized support? HealthLink BC’s Allergy Nutrition Service provides support to families who have concerns and question around food allergies. Just dial 8-1-1 and ask to speak with a registered dietitian.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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Community skating project scores in Telegraph Creek!

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Outdoor ice rink

Various community partners came together to make skating accessible for students and families in Telegraph Creek.

What do you get when you take a revitalized outdoor skating rink, invested and engaged community partners, new equipment, and a community of children, youth, and families looking for recreational opportunities to enjoy during the long, cold winter? You get a Community Skating Project that benefits the entire community!

Last spring, the principal of the Tahltan School, located in Telegraph Creek, applied for an IMAGINE Community Grant to support the school’s interest in providing skating equipment and activities for the students that would also be accessible and inclusive for the entire school community. The original plan for the project was to get the gear and skate on the local lake and, through a partnership with the Tahltan Band, to offer a few trips to the nearest indoor rink, located 112 km away in Dease Lake.

Fortunately for the staff, students, and families of Telegraph Creek, an unexpected and welcome partnership along the way with the local RCMP made this community initiative even more successful than the original plan! The RCMP staff took on the task of putting in ice at the local outdoor ice rink in Telegraph Creek and maintaining it throughout the season so that all could access and enjoy the rink! They even offered a celebration day once the ice was ready where they gave out free hot chocolate and snacks for everyone.

The positive impact of having outdoor recreation was amazing to witness. The rink was mainly enjoyed by the youth, and in a community where there are limited recreational opportunities, it was rewarding to see them having so much fun.- Mark Van Wieringen, First Nations policing constable

Aerial shot of ice rink

Once the weather cooperated in Telegraph Creek, a beautiful outdoor rink took shape and provided a winter recreation option in the community.

The great success of the new project also came with some challenges that are not unique to our northern communities:

One challenge was weather: not having a usable ice rink until the weather was cold enough and then it became too cold! There were plans in place to get a school bus for our school that we could use for trips to skate in Dease Lake but unfortunately that bus was delayed, which made it difficult to organize a trip. We were lucky that the RCMP staff were able to make ice on the outdoor rink this year. -Nancy Danuser, vice principal, Tahltan School

Families skating on outdoor rink

With support from the local RCMP detachment, families in Telegraph Creek got to enjoy a community celebration and an outdoor ice rink!

Through community partnerships, some flexibility, and a bit of seed funding, fantastic project ideas can be realized and last in the community for years to come:

The IMAGINE grant has made it possible for children without skates to participate… it has allowed us to support other community events like the Winter Carnival by lending skates to those who need them. -Nancy Danuser

What can you do to improve the health of your community and who can you partner with to make it happen? Submit your IMAGINE grant application today!


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. At the time of this story’s publication, the deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is March 31, 2017.

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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HIV/AIDS awareness through the arts: An IMAGINE grant project in action

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. After seeing the amazing entries in the art and slogan contest that formed part of the Learning HIV/AIDS Awareness through the Arts / Multicultural Festival, I can’t argue with that!

To get people talking about HIV/AIDS, the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society came up with a unique, three-part project that was supported by an IMAGINE grant. The project included:

  1. An art / slogan contest for HIV/AIDS awareness.
  2. A series of monthly, free workshops on a variety of art topics where participants could get HIV/AIDS information as well as art supplies.
  3. An art gala and multicultural festival to bring the community together and to display the many messages and creations that were submitted.

Throughout the project, the organizers shared information about HIV/AIDS, testing locations, and community resources.

Why an art-based project?

“Art in its many forms – paintings, music, dance, and more – has always been a means for people of all backgrounds to gather and break down barriers and inhibitions,” shared Patricia Kolida, project organizer. “This project has given the opportunity for HIV/AIDS awareness and cultural inclusiveness for the whole community.”

I could tell you all about the entries, the creative slogans, and the powerful messages, but that would miss the point entirely, wouldn’t it? So, without further ado, here are a few of my favourite submissions:

Colourful poster reading: HIV comes in many colours. Be HIV aware.

Poster with drawing of light bulb reads: Bring HIV to light. Don't be in dark.

Flowers growing out of pot with text reading: Bring AIDS awareness to life and save a life. Be safe.

Poster with text: Respect, love, peace, courage

First Nations art

Poster with text: "HIV awareness. Please protect yourself ... talk to someone!

Poster with red ribbon and text: "Be HIV aware. Get tested."

Colourful poster with text: "Beware of HIV. It affects everyone. Don't discriminate. Be part of solution, not the discrimination.

How did it go?

According to Patricia, “It was a joy to see our clients within the community engage in the many HIV/AIDS awareness art workshops to produce their messages of HIV/AIDS awareness. The clients felt proud of their accomplishments, which were on display at our art gala. The evening was rich with multicultural entertainment showcasing traditional and modern performances. Speeches were given with message that HIV/AIDS affects all cultures, races, ages, and genders.”

What creative ideas do you have to promote healthy outcomes in your community? Apply for an IMAGINE grant today!


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. At the time of this story’s publication, the deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is March 31, 2017.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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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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Writing a grant application – anyone can do it!

Group of young people with archery equipment

The Eagle Eye Archers in Prince Rupert are one group that benefited from an IMAGINE grant. Take steps to make sure that your grant application hits the mark!

For many people, even the thought of writing a grant proposal or application is intimidating. Rest assured that by keeping a few key tips in mind, anyone can do it!

Most grant programs get more applications than there are funds available. Whether you are applying for one of Northern Health’s grants (IMAGINE Community Grant applications are now open!) or are looking into a different grant program, follow these tips to ensure that your application stands out above the rest!

1. Know your project plan

  • Read the application beforehand and ensure that you are able to answer all questions and sections fully. Your enthusiasm for your project should come through.

2. Know your audience

  • Who will be able to participate in this project and the activities? Northern Health grants are keen to support projects that reduce health inequities and help those who are disadvantaged or vulnerable to improve their access to supports and resources for better health.

3. Confirm your timelines

  • Many grant programs have multiple cycles per year as well as deadlines for project completion and evaluation. Does your project start date fit within this timeline or should you wait for a future cycle?

4. List key project partners

  • Strong partnerships = strong projects! Working with other groups builds capacity and can be a great opportunity to learn from one another. Partnerships also help to ensure sustainability. Having more people involved can help to grow the project and increases its chance of lasting.
  • When listing partners, you should be able to explain their roles and responsibilities in the project.

5. Describe and connect project goals and activities

  • Be very specific about what you want to achieve in your community through your project. What is the ultimate goal(s)? What will success look like?
  • You should be able to directly connect your planned activities to these goals.

6. Explain the benefit to community

  • Applications should describe why a project is needed in your community. What sets your project apart from others in the community?

7. Have a clear budget

  • Remember to include all of the costs that will be associated with your project activities. Ensure that the total cost of the project is explained, specify the amount being requested from the grant, and identify where any other sources of funding will be coming from.
  • Confirming fundraising efforts or that other sources of funding have been explored shows community engagement and motivation for the project to succeed. Don’t forget to identify in-kind or free supports.
  • Ensure that the funding you are requesting fits the grant criteria. For example, if wages aren’t eligible for coverage under the grant criteria, don’t request them in your application.

8. Describe the future plans to keep the project going

  • We want to support projects that are thinking about sustainability from the beginning and we are less likely to support a one-time event or activity. Provide details on how the project will continue to grow in your community. Use a grant like our IMAGINE grant as the seed to get you started!

9. Get letters of support from partners and community members

  • Letters of support from project partners, additional funders, or people who will benefit from the project in the community are a great help! They show engagement and investment.
  • One or two letters are enough, but they should be specific to the project.

10. Choose an exciting project name

  • Choose a name for your project that will grab people’s attention – whether that’s the person reading the application or someone who wants to learn more about your project in the community. Be unique but keep it simple!

11. Learn from others


A version of this article first appeared in the winter 2016 issue of Healthier You magazine.

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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