Healthy Living in the North

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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Diversity and culture: celebrating Two-Spirit people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shalane Pauls

About Shalane Pauls

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

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Reflections on storytelling & spiritual health

As part of a recent project on healthy aging, I asked Semiguul (Fanny Nelson, Elder from Metlakatla) to share her thoughts on storytelling and spiritual health. She reflected on the importance of both of these ideas and, with National Aboriginal Day just around the corner, I wanted to share her insights with you.

Semiguul (Fanny Nelson, Elder from Metlakatla)

Semiguul (Fanny Nelson, Elder from Metlakatla)

On storytelling:

Story telling, in our culture, is the teaching and passing down of our knowledge. In our culture, the ‘Adaawx’ is our way of teaching the history of our people. The Tsimshian people.

On spiritual health:

Everything we did and were taught was how to pray for everything we take from the Creator. Cedar from the tree, fish from the sea, hide from the deer or moose which we used to make clothing. Whatever we took from the Creator, we gave thanks. We were also taught, only take what you need.

What do storytelling and spiritual health mean to you?

Find a Day of Wellness / National Aboriginal Day event near you.

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: Salmon and a celebration of Indigenous heritage, cultures, and foods

Canned salmon

Salmon can be prepared and enjoyed in so many ways. It is delicious and nutritious!

Salmon, salmon, salmon … so delicious and nutritious! Canned, fried, baked, dried, smoked, candied, pickled … the possibilities are endless! My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Salmon fishing season is approaching for many people across northern B.C. and my partner has been preparing for weeks. Last weekend he brought home our first spring salmon of the year from the Skeena River.

A fishing net along the Skeena River - where Victoria's partner recently caught his first spring salmon of the year!

A fishing net along the Skeena River – where Victoria’s partner recently caught his first spring salmon of the year!

Not only is salmon so delicious, it’s also very nutritious. It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids that help protect against strokes and heart disease. When eating canned salmon, be sure to mash up the bones as they are a good source of calcium, making our bones and teeth strong. Salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D, which is important in keeping our bones strong as well as protecting us from arthritis and cancer. Salmon meat, skin, head and eggs also provide protein and B vitamins.

Mother and daughter in a selfie

Fishing for salmon can be a family affair! Victoria and her daughter spend quality time together watching her partner fish! Photo by Hannah Litkw Stewart.

Salmon has been a staple food of coastal First Nations since time immemorial. Aboriginal Day is June 21 and is a great opportunity to celebrate Indigenous heritage, cultures, and foods. Some events even include salmon! For example, Saaynangaa Naay-Skidegate Health Centre is hosting Haida games, storytelling and a salmon meal! Gitlaxt’aamiks is hosting a soapberry ice cream contest and fish preparation contests. Check out an Aboriginal Day event in your area, including over 100 Day of Wellness events supported by the First Nations Health Authority! Find an event in your community and come out and celebrate Aboriginal Day!

Want to add salmon to your menu? Baked salmon is a great treat. Here is one of my favorite baked salmon recipes to try:

Dilled Salmon

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 (6 oz) salmon fillets

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. In a small bowl, combine garlic, oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, dill, mustard and syrup.
  3. Place fillets in a medium glass baking dish and cover with the marinade.
  4. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes/inch or until cooked through and easily flaked with a fork. Do not overcook.

Enjoy!

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

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

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Foodie Friday: Nature provides

Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads are one of several edible plants available in our region.

Spring is here. I can feel it. Can you feel it too? The sun is out and I just want to be outside as much as I can. I can’t wait to get my fingers in the earth. I’m excited by the new shoots showing up. This is a great season to learn about the gifts that spring gives to nourish us.

My partner is from the Kitselas First Nation and he has gathered ostrich fern fiddleheads for years. He watches the signs of spring and knows just when and where to find them. It’s quite an art. Without his help, I would probably gather the wrong thing. Last year, we harvested stinging nettle, too. It was so delicious! I could almost taste the nutrients dancing in my mouth. Of course, we had to use thick gloves to pick it and cook it so as to avoid a nasty sting.

Want to try gathering and cooking fiddleheads this spring? Here’s how!

For centuries, First Nations and Aboriginal people have been harvesting plants. This has been an important part of their diet and medicine. Nutritional information shows us that wild plants are often much higher in nutrients than other, store-bought vegetables.

Mint

Wild mint is another edible plant available in northern B.C. Check with elders or knowledge holders in your community before heading out to gather!

There are some great resources available on edible plants. The spring is a great opportunity to take one of these books, get outdoors with your family, and enjoy nature’s treasure hunt. I am no expert, so I encourage you to check with elders and knowledge holders in your communities to learn what is safe to gather, when to gather it, and protocols you need to respect and areas you should or shouldn’t gather in. Also, take care not to overharvest and to avoid zones that have been sprayed to avoid environmental contaminants.

Here are some great resources to start you out on your gathering journey:

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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Healthy aging with Dzi’is

Woman walking on pipeline.

Walking the water pipeline with Gramma to pick berries. (Photo by Ann King)

How do you age well? I could tell you about research on the importance of active engagement and participating in productive activities that promote societal values (if you’re interested, I recommend checking out work by Verena H. Menec), but research has never been my best teacher.

My Dzi’is (Gramma*) taught me, among many other things, how to live and age well. She went to be with her sisters and brothers last July 14th but her lessons and memories remain.

I remember being 10 years old and harvesting eeyaans** (black chiton – a type of mollusk) with Gramma and my mom at Ridley Island near Prince Rupert. Gramma had her hair done and was dressed impeccably with her black ballet-style flats. We carried with us ice cream buckets and butter knives to pry the eeyaans off the rocks so that we could collect them. Gramma led the way and at one point she asked us to help her down a jagged six to seven foot rock face to reach a prime harvesting spot while the tide was out.

My mother climbed down first, leaving me at the top to lower my 60-year-old Gramma down to her. I remember thinking, as I held her forearms and hands, “This is way too much responsibility for me! I’m dangling Gramma off a tiny cliff for food!” My mom guided Gramma’s ballet flats into good footholds and she made it down in one piece! We went home, exhausted, with full buckets and Gramma went to work cooking up what we had harvested.

Young girl with bucket

Jessie picking berries and flowers with Gramma and mom.
(Photo by Ann King)

All of my memories of my Dzi’is involve food gathering (eeyaans and berries) or hunting in local markets and second-hand stores for treasures; all of which exhausted me and energized her. She taught me to stay active and social and to keep your family busy. She never spoke directly about how she felt about aging, but she definitely did it well!

Through her example, I learned the importance of activities that promote not only societal values, but cultural and traditional ones, too. Aging well for her was being Tsimshian and everything that identity encompasses.


Notes

* There are many variants of some Sm’algyax (Tsimshian) words such as Gramma or Grandma – Dzi’is or Tsi’i’is are common versions.

** Eeyaan, commonly known as the black leather chiton, is a type of mollusk harvested from the bottom or sides of rocks in heavy surf areas.


This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Healthier You magazine. All past issues of the magazine are available online.

 

 

Jessie King

About Jessie King

Jessie, Hadiksm Gaax, was born in raised in Prince Rupert and came to Prince George in 2005 to attend UNBC. Her role at Northern Health is within the Aboriginal Health department as the Lead of Research and Community Engagement. When she isn’t working on her PhD in Health Science, she is out and about exploring, swimming, and playing with her little family. She is a member of the Tsimshian Nation and belongs to the Ganhada (Raven Clan).

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A video from North Coast First Nations for health care providers

Man in First Nations regalia

A still frame from the opening of Honouring our Journey, a newly released video that provides information for health care providers about the Haida and Tsimshian Nations culture, history, and how these impact their health care needs.


“The door is open for you to learn,” says Kitkatla Councillor, Timothy Innes. “Learn how our culture is and what it entails … and who we are, then (you) can work with us more comfortably … you’re not intruding.”

The North Coast Aboriginal Health Improvement Committee (AHIC) is pleased to launch a video, Honouring Our Journey, that provides information for health care providers about the Haida and Tsimshian Nations culture, history, and how these impact their health care needs.

“If doctors and nurses come with an open mind and are genuine, lots will be returned to them as our people are kind and generous,” says Elizabeth Moore, an Elder in Old Masset.

In 2014-2015, Aboriginal Health provided financial support to each of the nine AHICs in the north to develop local cultural resources. These resources were guided by the question, “If I were a new health care practitioner in your community, what would you want me to know?”

In the video, Lauren Brown, the Health Director in Skidegate, encourages health care providers to consider “the whole person, including their beliefs and traditions.” Cindy Ignas, the Health Director in Kitkatla advises,

“You have to really listen and be very careful to not make any judgements and to understand the cultural lens that you bring as a non-First Nations person … step back from your biases, assumptions, and judgements and try to really learn, be curious and ask lots of questions.”

Betty Reece, the Health Director in Lax Kw’alaams, says, “Come out and meet the people apart from your workplace.”

This impactful video covers important and relevant topics such as:

  • the present day impacts of Residential School experiences on health care interactions,
  • the current role of traditional medicines and the importance of health care providers asking about their use to prevent possible negative interactions with prescribed medications,
  • the importance of using plain language, including family and/or translators in the appointment, and
  • learning about the gathering and use of traditional foods in health and well-being.

I highly encourage you to watch this 25 minute video and share it with others. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, Mary Wesley, video producer and the Aboriginal Patient Liaison in Prince Rupert and for the North Coast, would be happy to connect and even to facilitate group discussions following a screening.

This video is a beautiful gift from the North Coast First Nations in hopes that we all are inspired to continue our learning journeys towards a culturally safe health care system for all First Nations and Aboriginal people. Another way to develop your understanding of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples is the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training, an online course by the Provincial Health Services Authority.

A booklet summarizes the cultural resources developed by AHICs across the north.

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

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

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Healthy living for healthy aging

Woman on a boat

“Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.” Judy Gerow shares her thoughts on health and aging.

Judy Gerow is member of the Kitselas First Nation and has been in Band Council for over 20 years: two years as Chief and the rest as Councillor. She is a mother of six, a stepmother of an additional six, and is also raising her granddaughter. Throughout her whole life, her health has been on her mind. I had the privilege of asking Judy a few questions about her experiences of health and aging and am excited to share her thoughts and story below.

Do you believe that health is a journey?

Yes, absolutely, I think it’s a journey! Your physical and mental health play a big part in your well-being and need to be in balance to be truly healthy.

When did you start really considering your health?

Even though I have always been thinking about my health, it was after I became a mother that I realized how important it was to take care of myself so that I was here for my children.

My kids are a real motivation for me. Now that I am raising my granddaughter, I want to take care of myself to make sure I am here for her until she can be on her own.

What things are you doing to keep you healthy?

I try to watch what I eat and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. I keep myself involved in various activities, many of which are physical such as my volunteer role in the fire department. I like to fish and hunt and through this, challenge my body to keep up with others and carry what I can. I garden, too.

Family is also very important to me; we are a large and close family and look forward to getting together for family dinners. As I get older, I spend more time thinking about my life, what matters, and how I can live this to the fullest.

How does this healthy lifestyle make you feel?

I feel a sense of pride that I can still pull my own weight, even though I can’t carry as much as I could in my youth. My role model is my mother. She is 84 years old and she’s still going strong. When she was in her 60’s, I had a hard time keeping up to her. She would get up at dawn and preserve fruits and vegetables until late at night. She is slowing down now due to health concerns. She has macular degeneration but she still cuts fish, even though she does it now by feel.

When I’m out on the river or in the bush, I have time to reflect and focus on the land and the environment. I find that very spiritual and I get a sense of belonging when I’m out there. It’s like I can feel the presence of my ancestors who walked before me for thousands of years.

How do you think having a healthy lifestyle now will support your health in the future?

I think it will help me to live longer and to remain active. I couldn’t imagine not being active. I want to be just like my mom! When I was growing up, I used to tell my friends that I didn’t want to be like my mother. It’s ironic that no matter how hard I tried to do things differently, I end up like her! My mother is always there, a focus in my life.

What are you most looking forward to about being healthy as you age?

I look forward to being active and having a fulfilling life where I can do what I want and not be a burden to anyone. I want to remain independent as long as I can.

If you could share one message with others about your journey, what would that message be?

When you are younger, you don’t think about what it’s going to be like when you’re older. Choices one makes when they are young do matter in the future, that is the message I would like to share.

Every summer was like bootcamp for me. I was busy keeping up to my husband as we hunted or fished together. I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Parts of my body are starting to give me more problems now – like my knees and my elbows – from pushing myself too much then, packing heavy loads, and jumping off rocks.

My husband passed away five years ago from lung cancer. He was a smoker and a drinker. I chose not to so I could be there for my children. My current partner has diabetes and heart disease from not taking care earlier.

Everyone needs to start taking care of themselves and be more conscious of what’s around them. Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.

I never had an interest in gardening even when I had watched my mom do it. Yet, last year, we planted a garden and what came up was wonderful! I found it so relaxing; I could just get lost in it. I could sit in that garden, pulling weeds and not think of anything and before I knew it, four hours had passed! Work and other things in my life slipped away. We all need to do more of this. Life is too fast-paced. I’m going on a vacation soon. My partner and I are taking our motorhome and just going – no destination or timeline! Stress-free!

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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