Healthy Living in the North

“This is who I am:” Northern Health staff member Jessie King presents at international conference

Jessie King posing with a slide from her presentation.
Jessie King before presenting her PhD thesis in Toronto.

Jessie King presented her PhD thesis on November 10 as part of an event attended by 1,500 people from around the world.

The Prince George resident, a member of the Raven Clan of the Tsimshian First Nation, was attending the 11th annual Decolonizing Conference hosted by the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

The conference, entitled “Dialoguing and Living Well Together: Decolonization and Insurgent Voices,” was at the University of Toronto, which is located on the traditional territories of the Huron-Wendat, Petun, Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River.

Decolonizing has been described as speaking out against and reframing “the ongoing colonialism and colonial mentalities that permeate education, media, government policies, and ‘commonsense’.”[1]

Jessie, who works in Northern Health’s Indigenous Health department as the Lead, Research & Community Engagement, entitled her thesis “Niit nüüyu gwa’a: Decolonizing and Deconstructing First Nations Identity.” The first part of the title is Sm’algyax for “This is who I am.” She chose this title to acknowledge the ten-year intensive exploration of her identity that has taught her to keep questioning and talking about Indigenous identities. For her identity, specifically, Jessie looks to her personal experiences growing up learning about her Tsimshian culture, social interactions that were both positive and negative, and the most recent and ongoing conflict with identity as defined within the Indian Act.  

A painting by Jessie King of a raven and an orange moon.
This painting by Jessie King representing the clan and identity that she shares with her boys was also used as a conceptual framework for her research.

Her work looks at how the social, personal, and legal components of First Nations identity influence how someone thinks of their identity. It’s important to discuss and interrogate the intersection of where these parts of First Nations identity interact and create conflict, not only for First Nations People, but equally for those who are curious to know more.

Jessie’s thesis, which she’ll formally defend early in 2019, discusses issues of identity in an Indigenous context. Some questions she examines include: “Does how you disclose your identity change based on different situations and your perceived level of safety?” and “What are the implications of status on your identity?”

Jessie built her thesis on a foundation of research that she carried out for her master’s degree. At that time, she talked to women who’d lost status by “marrying out” – in other words, by marrying a man without Status as defined in the Indian Act.

“This whole concept of status being based on your proximity to men with status is problematic,” Jessie says. “To have such an important part of your legal identity defined by the men in your life is difficult for me coming from a matrilineal society.” 

She continued the work into her PhD thesis partly at the urging of the women she spoke with, who she prefers to describe as “co-researchers,” rather than “research subjects.”

“Several of these women asked me to keep the conversation going and keep creating that space,” she says. “We’re moving forward together.”

In the course of the interviews, people would interpret their identities much more precisely, she says, because they were in that space.

A slide from Jessie King’s conference presentation.
A slide from Jessie King’s conference presentation sets out the research questions used in her thesis.

For her co-researchers, being part of Jessie’s research was a positive experience overall: “Just being here right now, this is healing” said one woman. It’s essential to create space for these conversations to happen in safe spaces without fearing what others will think of you based on where you are in your journey to understanding identity. Jessie’s work is about acknowledging where people are in their understanding and honouring their stories by privileging their voice.

“The intent was to open up that space,” said Jessie. “Not many people feel safe to talk about their identity in the open, because of judgments, misunderstanding, or how an interaction will change because someone finds out who you are.”

A concrete example of the contradictions inherent in Indigenous identity involves a specific spot where Jessie fishes with her family. Beyond a certain point on that river,four important men in Jessie’s life – her two sons, husband, and father – are not legally allowed to fish: her husband and father, because they are not Indigenous; and her two boys, because Jessie is unable to transmit her status to them after marrying their father. This is the current law according to the Indian Act: after two generations of “marrying out,” mothers lose the ability to transmit status to their children, and subsequently, membership to their ancestral communities.

Jessie and her mother, on the other hand, are free to fish and practice certain rights. Jessie notes that according to researcher Pam Palmater, this sort of restriction creates “a divide between different ways of knowing who we are — a divide between people.” It’s a divide she anticipates having to explain to her two young sons one day when their curiosity shifts to who they are and why it’s in conflict with a system that defines them differently from their Tsimshian mother and grandmother.

“It’s still something I struggle with, that divide within families,” Jessie says. “My boys will never be able to fish beyond that boundary. I do this work in preparation for explaining this to them when they’re old enough to ask.”

Jessie claims this is problematic “because the Indian Act has been conflated with personal identity, which it is not, but it does impact your idea of self when it is in conflict with who you are and who your family is.” She continues, “Be what you were meant to be and do what you were meant to do, not what the Indian Act determines!”

Jessie reports that her presentation was well received in Toronto, and that she found it valuable to share her thoughts and her research with people – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous — from many different countries.


[1][https://intercontinentalcry.org/what-is-decolonization-and-why-does-it-matter/, accessed December 5, 2018

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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Foodie Friday: Living out your healthy cultural traditions

Culture is so important for health and wellness. It shapes how we define health and wellness and how we practice it.

As a society, health and wellness seem to be narrowly defined by weight. Health is much more than the physical parameter of weight, which is influenced by unrealistic beauty standards in Canada – it includes mental and emotional health. Sadly, when someone doesn’t fit the standard around weight, they may be treated in ways that harm their mental health. We need to stop blaming or shaming people for their weight or health issues. Most people who are overweight have tried very hard, often unsuccessfully, to lose weight—after all 95% of diets fail within 2 years. We are all built differently: healthy bodies exist in a variety of shapes and sizes. People of all sizes should be accepted and treated with respect. Our goal should therefore be supporting a healthy body image for all. I truly believe health is the responsibility of our society and communities. It’s about making the healthy choice the easy choice.

The holistic role of culture

Cultural traditions shared with me by my Indigenous colleagues are great examples of the holistic role culture plays in healthy eating, physical activity, healthy minds, and healthy relationships. Engaging in these activities supports individuals, families, and communities to be healthy in all aspects of their lives. Here are some activities that can be enjoyed in the summer months and, coupled with food preservation, can extend the health benefits throughout the year:

  • Berry picking with your friends and family
  • Salmon fishing
  • Gathering traditional plants and medicines
  • Seaweed gathering
  • Clam digging
  • Gathering herring
  • Hunting
  • Gardening

Here is what some of my colleagues shared:

“My family celebrates food and berry harvesting and preservation from the oolichan, the salmon, moose and bear.”

Lloyd McDames, the Aboriginal Patient Liaison in Terrace who is from the Kitselas First Nation

“As a whole, our community of ?Esdilagh First Nation comes together every year to a culture camp.  Our Chilcotin traditional healers come from neighbouring communities to our members. We have been bringing awareness to the community members about the traditional medicines and living off the land. The culture camp brings us together as a way of connecting to our community members so that we can all learn together as one and start living in a healthier way.”

-Thelma Stump, the Health and Wellness Manager for ?Esdilagh First Nation

Angie Combs, the Aboriginal Patient Liaison at Wrinch Memorial Hospital, picks Is (soapberries in Gitxsan). She said,

“I gather the berries in mid-June when they are green. I enjoy being active outdoors and find berry picking peaceful. It makes me happy because I know I will be preserving them and serving them in the middle of the winter for my friends and family. I look forward to the fun and laughter of when my family gathers to enjoy a bowl of freshly whipped Is.”

soapberry ice cream, woman preparing ice cream

Angie Combs whips up Yal Is for the residents at Wrinch Memorial Hospital.

Here is her recipe for Yal Is:

Yal Is (soapberry ice cream in Gitxsan) 

(serves 6- 8 people)

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint canned green soapberries (canned in water)
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)

Method:

  1. Put canned soapberries in a sieve. Crush berries.
  2. Strain through sieve to remove seeds, collecting the juice in a stainless steel or glass bowl.
  3. Add the water to the juice. Beat until frothy with electric beater.
  4. Add banana and continue to beat. Add sugar and continue to beat until stiff like stiff egg whites.
  5. Serve immediately and enjoy.

Note: the soapberries lose their volume quickly after mixing; however, all you need to do is mix it again with the beater until it forms firm peaks. Some berries used to be mixed by hand and some people still do this.

Want to learn more? Here are a couple of academic papers about Indigenous culture, body image, and traditional physical activity:

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 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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New issue of Healthier You: Community grants in action!

Magazine cover

The winter issue of Healthier You magazine is all about community grants in action.

What does it mean to support “healthy people in healthy communities”? That’s one of the questions that the latest issue of Healthier You magazine sets out to answer!

I really enjoyed reading through this issue and learning about the different ways that communities are taking actions that promote health and prevent disease.

Curious about what that means?

Take a look through the issue and you’ll find:

  • A local approach to preventing injury and promoting active transportation (Village of Queen Charlotte’s Bike Repair and Safety Program).
  • The Food Secure Kids program in the northeast challenging you to learn about food security through the experiences of students who are enjoying the taste of a carrot that they planted and grew themselves.
  • Local ideas that support healthier early years through Children First funded programs in Mackenzie & area, Prince George, Quesnel, and the Robson & Canoe Valleys.

Once these projects and others get you inspired to connect into healthy community projects where you live, don’t miss the issue’s handy information on:

Take a look through these stories online or look for a hard copy of the magazine in local doctors’ offices, clinics, and Northern Health facilities near you! All past issues of Healthier You are also available online.

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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What captured your attention this year? Top 10 blog posts of 2016!

Photo collage of pictures from stories featured in article

Which article was your favourite?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love year-end “best of” or “top 10” lists!

Not only are they a fun way to discover great stories, books, recipes, songs, movies, or whatever else you might want, but they reveal something neat about our collective interests.

So, what captured our readers’ attention and imagination in 2016? It’s an eclectic mix that includes stories of northern health care providers and northern families, expert tips and recipes for the outdoors, a beautiful video about Haida and Tsimshian Nations culture, and more!

Here they are: the 10 most-read blog posts from the Northern Health Matters blog in 2016!

#10: Loving yourself: Be bold, be beautiful, be brave!

#9: Foodie Friday: A hiker’s power food

#8: Foodie Friday goes camping! Eating well & tantalizing taste buds in the backcountry

#7: Pumping iron: First foods for building strong babies

#6: A video from North Coast First Nations for health care providers

#5: Staff profile: Licensing officer Lisa Rice shares her thoughts on quality child care

#4: Setting SMART goals

#3: Congratulations to NH’s newest Health Care Hero, Barb Crook

#2: “I always knew that I would come back to nursing”: Richelle’s story

#1: “The village helped to raise our child”: A Smithers family reflects

Thank you for reading in 2016! We look forward to sharing more stories with you in 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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Orange Shirt Day

Two women dressed in orange

Marking Orange Shirt Day in Kitsumkalum.

I was honoured to be invited to Kitsumkalum’s Orange Shirt Day by Charlene Webb, the community health director. Although I got to wear a beautiful locally designed orange shirt, enjoy yummy orange food, and visit with many people, this event has a sad undertone.

What is Orange Shirt Day?

September 29th is Orange Shirt Day – a day of remembrance and recognition of residential school survivors and those who did not survive.

It is a day each year to acknowledge the harm done by the residential school system to children’s self-esteem and well-being and to remember that every child matters. Orange Shirt Day grew out of Phyllis’ story. In 1973, when she was 6 years old, Phyllis attended the Mission school. On her first day of school, her clothes (including a special, brand new, shiny orange shirt) were taken from her and replaced with a uniform. Orange Shirt Day is an annual opportunity to engage in a discussion on all aspects of the residential school system.

Residential schools

September is when children go back to school and it is therefore timely to remember the Indigenous children in Canada who were taken from their families and travelled long distances to attend residential schools. Instead of being nurtured and supported, many suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse there.

Residential schools are a dark part of Canadian history that make me very sad. As a 6th generation Canadian white woman with First Nations children, I have struggled with this part of Canada’s history. I first learned about residential schools when I was pregnant with my first child. I was devastated that such a thing could happen. As a parent, I cannot imagine a more heart wrenching and devastating experience than having my children forcibly removed and taken far away where I cannot protect them or care for them.

Woman wearing "Every Child Matters" shirt

Orange Shirt Day is a day each year to acknowledge the harm done by the residential school system to children’s self-esteem and well-being and to remember that every child matters.

Learning more

As hard as it is, we need to acknowledge that this tragedy occurred and learn more about it so that it never happens again. I encourage you to explore several resources:

Cultural humility

Part of healing from this difficult history in Canada involves all of us developing our cultural humility – our ability to be respectful, self-aware, and lifelong learners when it comes to the experiences of others.

I encourage you to join me and participate in the First Nations Health Authority social media campaign to engage all of us in advancing cultural safety and humility in the health system. In my daily life, I strive to do my part to help create an environment in Northern Health where people feel safe from racism and discrimination. Make a pledge today and share it on social media. Together we can make a difference.

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Sharing of cultural practices in health care transitions

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

Young boy carrying drum

A young drummer at a video launch event in Kitselas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Group of six adults with gift bags.

Celebrating the launch of the AHIC videos in Kitselas.

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

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

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

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

Another way to develop your understanding of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples is the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training, an online course by the Provincial Health Services Authority.

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

 

Cultural practices around birth

Cultural practices around illness and death

Jonathan Cooper

About Jonathan Cooper

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

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“A gateway to many opportunities for Elders”: The Nadleh Whut’en First Nation Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder program

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.


The number of people aged 65 or older is growing faster in northern B.C. than it is elsewhere in the province. As you may have noticed on the blog recently, this has made healthy aging a very important focus for all of us!

A key part of Northern Health’s Healthy Aging in the North: Action Plan is to support healthy aging in the community. Older adults enjoy living independently in the community and want to stay there! To make this happen, they need a variety of opportunities to stay active and involved in community life.

Staff supporting elder on a bicycle

The Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event series has gotten Elders moving, eating healthy, connected, and socializing.

Near Fort Fraser, the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation provides a model to do just that!

With the support of an IMAGINE grant, the Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event series has gotten Elders moving, eating healthy, connected, and socializing. With some donated space, local expertise, and equipment purchased with an IMAGINE grant, Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder is a great example of how one idea – getting Elders moving at a monthly gathering – can blossom and create so many additional benefits!

What became clear early in the program is that Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder was about more than just getting Elders moving, its original goal. According to Lisa Ketlo with the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation,

This event has accomplished many things: healthy eating, socializing, physical activities, [assessing] health concerns or issues, [and] monitoring wellness of Elders and community members.

For the physical activity component of the project, Nadleh Whut’en “had Elders and community members out walking, using a 3-wheel bike, or using the chair gym. [We] made members realize no matter how old we are, if we don’t use it, we lose it!” According to Ketlo, the program encouraged connections across generations, too, as it “opens the doors for many younger generations to get physically active and take care of their bodies inside and out.” The 3-wheel bike, for example, helped youth test their balance and made some local office workers realize they didn’t do enough physical activity! The Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event now regularly sees up to 16 participants ranging in age from 19-81.

Three people walking

Social connections have been a key feature of the Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder project.

In addition to the physical activity benefits, Ketlo reflected on the impact related to social connectedness – a key piece of healthy aging.

I was shocked with some members who attended Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder. Some of these Elders never leave their home and now look forward to attending the event. I also see them at more community events and socializing with others […] Elders get to be involved with community events and not isolated at home. We had one Elder [who had been] isolated and depressed at home. Since she began attending Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder, she has been going out to more community events and going out to shop for herself!

Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder is not just about connecting Elders with one another and with youth in the community. The program also let Elders connect directly with health care professionals in a non-medical setting, which was huge!

This event has opened many doors for the community members, frontline workers, and nurses […] The members involved with the event are able to socialize with community members and frontline workers – to have someone to talk to and not be judged. When trust comes into play, then Elders will open and share any health, financial, or abuse issues – or just to admit they are unable to do tasks they once were able to achieve and ask for help […] We are able to visit with Elders and members with health issues, the nurse is able to monitor members with any health concerns or catch any signs of health issues arising […] To have community nurse on site really helps her to build trust with Elders. They are more willing to do blood pressure, sugar testing, [and discuss] any issues they have developed and what medication they are taking and how important it is to take medication […] We achieved goals [we weren’t] able to achieve before, like getting blood pressure, blood sugar, and pulse [measurements] on a regular basis.

Ketlo believes that Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder can be re-created by others. For Nadleh Whut’en, the IMAGINE grant provided funds for various pieces of equipment to support safe and healthy physical activity: runners, umbrellas (for shade in the summer), 3-wheel bikes, chair gym equipment, weights, snowshoes, ice grippers, high-visibility vests, and more!

Elder on a tricycle

“This grant is a gateway to many opportunities for Elders and community members through physical activities.” What kind of gateway to health can you create in your community?

Ketlo has a few suggestions for other communities looking to initiate a similar program:

  • Feed guests and visitors! By providing healthy snacks and drinks, more community members were encouraged to take part and the event was able to teach Elders and all participants about the importance of healthy eating and drinking.
  • Never hold an event for Elders on Old Age Pension day! The very first Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder event took place on pension day and only one participant attended.
  • Involve local experts. Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder benefited from the expertise of a physical therapist able to suggest appropriate exercises and resources for Elders.
  • Meet people where they’re at. Many Elders at the community event were much more open to getting a checkup from the local nurse than they would be at the Health Centre.

Ketlo sums up the impact of the IMAGINE grant, the Push, Pull, or Drag an Elder program, and healthy aging work in this way:

This grant is a gateway to many opportunities for Elders and community members through physical activities.

What kind of gateway to healthy living can you create in your community?


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. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

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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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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