Healthy Living in the North

Northern Table: An Elder’s impact on community food security

Elder Semiguul sits on a boat, smiling at the camera.

Metlakalta Elder Semiguul (Fanny Nelson).

Not having enough food to eat affects one in six children living in Canada. This can impact a child’s physical, mental, and social health.

The effects of food insecurity on health

Household food insecurity” means not having access to food because of inadequate income, and it’s connected to negative health and well-being. Those who experience food insecurity are at an increased risk for health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, depression, and suicidal thoughts [1]. However, amidst these challenges, there are people who are making a difference in building community and household food security.

One Elder making a difference

Elder Semiguul (Fanny Nelson) is from Metlakatla, a First Nations community near Prince Rupert. Metlakatla’s population is about 80 people and it’s only accessible by boat or plane. Semiguul’s parents taught her how to harvest traditional foods (gathering seaweed, digging clams, and picking berries) as well as how to prepare them.

Today, Semiguul regularly takes family and community members with her when she goes harvesting. Back at home, she prepares these foods and teaches others how to prepare them too.

“I teach them to gather and put away enough food to last, so that they don’t have a tough time in the winter months,” says Semiguul.

Semiguul and another person are on a rock shore, looking for food. Semiguul is handing down a bucket.

Semiguul regularly takes family and community members with her when she harvests traditional foods.

Learning from our Elders

Elders have a lot to teach us about how to live off the land and waters, and about values such as generosity and caring for the environment. Reigniting harvesting strategies that have worked for millennia is called Indigenous food sovereignty. It’s an important part of ensuring community members have access to healthy foods that are sustainable and build community self-reliance (community food security).

First Nations traditional foods

First Nations traditional foods are nutritious and some have been used by Elders for generations.

“My mom told me that black currants would reduce a fever,” shares Semiguul. “I have put a spoon of black currant jam in water and it works. The fever goes down. I also gave seaweed daily to someone who had low iron and it helped.”

Respecting traditional territory and teachings

If you want to gather foods from the land, it’s important to speak with Elders or the local First Nation on whose traditional territory you are on, to learn about respectful food gathering practices. For example, Semiguul shares with children, “only take want you need to last from season to season. Break off the ends of the seaweed and leave it there as it is the seed for next year.”

More food security information

Here are some other programs that are building community food security in the region:

If you’d like to learn more about household food insecurity, take a look this three-part blog series on household food insecurity:

  1. What is household food insecurity?
  2. Food costing in BC
  3. A call to action

[1] PROOF food insecurity policy research.

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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Our People: Spotlight on Lyndsey Rhea, Aboriginal Patient Liaison

On a dirt road with a creek in the background, a man in a motorized wheelchair holds a beige horse. Lyndsey stands to their right.

Stan Boyd (left) from Nazko First Nation and Lyndsey Rhea (right).

Lyndsey Rhea is an Aboriginal Patient Liaison (APL) from Quesnel, BC. Her career as an APL started in 2010, when she began working at the University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC) in Prince George. In 2011, the same role opened up in her home town and she was quick to make the move to G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital in Quesnel, where she’s worked since May 2011.

Not sure what an APL is? Check out “What are APLs and what do they do?

Why did you choose your career?

I attended UNBC in Prince George and received a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. I’ve always had an interest in medicine and, through a practicum placement in my fourth year, I learned about the APL role.

APLs have a unique role. We can act as a bridge for the medical system, Aboriginal patients, and communities. I’m passionate about Aboriginal health and making sure that patients receive high-quality, culturally safe care. The APL role combines medical, social work, and Aboriginal components into one job!

How did you end up at NH?

After my practicum placement, I worked as a casual Social Worker and APL in Prince GeorgeI’m from Quesnel, so I was very happy when the APL role came up [in Quesnel] and I was able to move back to my home community.

What would you say to anyone wanting to get into your kind of career?

It’s definitely a very rewarding career! Every day is different, which makes for an exciting and challenging job. I’m always learning something new, and have learned so much about local traditions and history from the Elders in my area. It’s also a good idea to look into volunteering opportunities that are in the field of your interest. Here in Quesnel, we have a Junior Volunteer Program that is a great way to get an understanding of what it might be like to work in a hospital.

Lyndsey Rhea sits at a desk at G.R. Baker Hospital.

Lyndsey Rhea at G.R. Baker Hospital.

What does a day in the life of an APL look like?

On a typical day, the first thing I do is go to our daily huddle on the inpatient unit. From there, I can plan my day. I would then see the patients who are in the hospital, help to support them throughout their stay, and help plan for their discharge.

I work in all areas of the hospital, including the emergency room, intensive care unit, acute care, psychiatry, and with residents in long-term care. I also work with clients in the community to help them navigate the health care system. This might include a home visit or attending a doctor’s appointment with a patient to help them advocate for their health care needs. Another big part of my job includes working with the First Nations Health Authority for things like patient travel, medical supplies and equipment, and prescription coverage.

I’m lucky to be able to work with our local communities and take part in events in both urban and community settings. Recently, I helped with an Equine Wellness event for youth in Nazko. I attend health fairs and other community events. I’ve found a huge benefit in getting to know community members outside of the hospital, so if they do need my services, I’m a familiar face.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an APL?

The most rewarding part to me has been the relationships that I have built with Elders, patients, and local First Nations communities. I’ve been able to work with new moms having their first babies, Elders who are passing away, and everything in between. Accessing health care can be stressful and it is rewarding to know that I have been able to help patients go through the medical system easier.

What’s your favourite part about living where you do?

I like that Quesnel is such a close-knit community. We may lack resources compared to a larger centre, but the service providers in our community are able to work together to come up with creative ideas and solutions. Because Quesnel is a smaller community, I’m able to build relationships and connect with patients and clients in a way that is not possible in larger cities.

12 members of the G.R. Baker staff are wearing orange shirts in support of Orange Shirt Day.

Lyndsey and other G.R. Baker Hospital staff support Orange Shirt Day.

How can patients get a referral to work with an APL?

I have a very casual/informal referral process. Referrals come by phone. Patients are welcome to self refer, or I can get calls from doctors, nurses, First Nations health teams, or family members. Patients do not need to have a status card or be admitted to the hospital to use APL services.

What’s your favourite thing to do outside work?

Last summer, I started paddle boarding and can’t wait for the warmer weather so I can get out on the lake with friends. I also play the fiddle and enjoy doing that as often as I can.

Shelby Petersen

About Shelby Petersen

Shelby is the Web Services Coordinator with Indigenous Health. Shelby has over five years of experience working in content development and digital marketing. After graduating with a degree in Political Science from UNBC, Shelby moved to Vancouver where she pursued a career in digital marketing. Most recently, Shelby was the Senior Content Developer and Project Manager with a digital advertising agency in Vancouver, British Columbia. Born and raised in Prince George, Shelby is thrilled to be back in the community and spending time outside enjoying everything that the North has to offer.

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What are Aboriginal Patient Liaisons and what do they do?

Lloyd McDames smiles at the camera. Text highlights what Llyod, an Aboriginal Patient Liason at Mills Memorial does and provides his phone number: 250-638-4085.

Llyod McDames is the APL for Terrace and Kitimat at Mills Memorial Hospital. The contact information for your community’s APL is available on the Indigenous Health website. It’s also on posters and screens at your local hospital.

Maybe you’ve seen their smiling faces on a TV screen at one of our hospitals or maybe you’ve heard the term “APL,” but you’re still not sure what exactly Aboriginal Patient Liaisons are, much less what they do. Let’s find out!

So, what are Aboriginal Patient Liaisons (APLs) and what do they do?

There are 10 APLs across the North. They work to make sure Indigenous patients, clients, residents, and their families have access to high quality, culturally safe care. They also help close gaps between Western and traditional medicine, ensuring a holistic health approach.

Lloyd McDames is the APL for Mills Memorial Hospital, which serves communities in and around the Terrace and Kitimat areas. In Lloyd’s role, no two days are the same.

“When I reflect on my role as an APL at Mills Memorial Hospital I find my role is that of: a travel coordinator, a comforter, a family researcher, a cultural awareness educator, a support person, an advocate, an outreach worker, a facilitator, a mediator, a problem solver, a community liaison, a social worker, and my favourite: a telephone-tag player,” says Lloyd.

Lloyd and the other APLs across the region work with a diverse group of community members and health care providers. They must learn to adapt quickly to make sure each unique individual receives culturally safe care.

Northern Health created the APL program because we are committed to:

  • Partnering with Indigenous peoples.
  • Building a health care system that honours diversity and provides services in a culturally relevant manner.

The program runs in partnership with community agencies in Prince George and Smithers (Carrier Sekani Family Services and the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society respectively).

Northern Health’s Indigenous Health team supports the APL program by:

  • Providing training opportunities and mentoring.
  • Supporting a community of practice.
  • Developing communications materials and resources.
  • Collaboratively planning, developing and evaluating the program.

What can an APL assist you with?

Indigenous health is holistic and seeks balance. At the heart of this view is an understanding that all things are connected and in relationship to one another – land, water, air, animals, individuals, families, and communities. Holistic health is a process that demands a broad and inclusive perspective for addressing health issues.

Here are some of the ways that APLs can work to make sure your health care experience is holistic:

  • Arrange for translation services.
  • Help patients understand the health care process, procedures, and terminology.
  • Help to ensure admission and discharge planning goes according to patient needs.
  • Assist with advanced health care planning.
  • Facilitate communication and cultural understanding between patient and care providers.
  • Assist patient with end-of-life resources.
  • Coordinate spiritual/cultural advisors.
  • Support and comfort family and friends.
  • Assist with referrals within Northern Health and to community agencies.
  • Help link patients to non-insured health benefits.
  • Assist with transition to and within long-term care.

How can you get in contact with an APL in your community?

There are 10 APLs throughout Northern Health in the following communities:

Contact information for each area can be found on the Indigenous Health website. Patients are invited to reach out to their APL directly or ask their health care provider for a referral.

Whether you are a health care provider or a patient seeking care, the team of APLs is here for you.

Shelby Petersen

About Shelby Petersen

Shelby is the Web Services Coordinator with Indigenous Health. Shelby has over five years of experience working in content development and digital marketing. After graduating with a degree in Political Science from UNBC, Shelby moved to Vancouver where she pursued a career in digital marketing. Most recently, Shelby was the Senior Content Developer and Project Manager with a digital advertising agency in Vancouver, British Columbia. Born and raised in Prince George, Shelby is thrilled to be back in the community and spending time outside enjoying everything that the North has to offer.

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All Native Basketball Tournament 2019 – The Diamond Anniversary

Person holding sign with their most valuable teaching.

My most valuable teaching…” Learning how to deal with loss. I learned not to isolate and at 72 years old I joined an Elders’ walking club. 3 times a week!”

From February 10-16, the 2019 All Native Basketball Tournament celebrated its diamond anniversary in Prince Rupert. The 60th annual tournament and cultural event drew participants and fans from as far as Ahousat on Vancouver Island to Hydaburg, Kake, and Metlakatla.

The original tournament was called the Northern British Columbia Coast Indian Championship Tournament and ran from 1947-1953. The inaugural 1947 tournament was held in the Roosevelt Gymnasium at what is now École Roosevelt Park Community School, attracting about 400 spectators. Due to lack of interest, the first version of the tournament was cancelled in 1953, but by 1959, the tournament was rekindled with a new name – The All Native Basket Ball Tournament (ANBT). The first ANBT was held on March 2, 1960 and continues to the present day as British Columbia’s largest basketball tournament and the largest Indigenous cultural event in Canada.

This year, the tournament saw thousands of spectators cheer nearly fifty teams competing in four divisions: intermediate, seniors’, masters’, and women’s.

All but one of the defending champions reclaimed their titles with the PR Bad Boys losing out to Skidegate Saints 85-83. The seniors’ division title went to the Kitkatla Warriors who beat out newcomers, Pigeon Park All-Stars, 102-85. The Hydaburg Warriors took home their fifth straight masters’ division title beating out the Lax Kw’alaams Hoyas 98-74. Finally, two-time defending champs, Kitamaat Woman’s Squad, bested the Similkameen Starbirds 45-36 to take home the women’s division title for the third time.

The Northern Health sponsored Raven Room

Person holding sign with their most valuable teaching.

My most valuable teaching… “Respect one another and respect your Elders; share and be thankful for what you have.”

Northern Health is proud to have partnered with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) to sponsor the Raven Room. The Raven Room is intended to be a peaceful space for Elders to rest and take a break from the bustle of the tournament.

Elder Semiguul (Fanny Nelson) was the room’s official host while many Elders and others dropped in for k’wila’maxs tea, coffee, baked goods with locally-harvested berry jam, fruit, and good conversation. Northern Health and FNHA staff and volunteers were on hand to offer wellness checks and advice about blood pressure, blood sugars, and cholesterol. Over 200 people visited the Raven Room and 191 people received wellness checks.

The Raven Room and wellness checks are designed to create a safe space for community members to learn about health care from a perspective outside the mainstream health care environment which can often be intimidating and uncomfortable for many. This more public space provides a safer and perhaps more familiar way to access services because others are there to witness and offer support.

Person holding sign with their most valuable teaching.

My most valuable teaching… “Pass my knowledge to the next generation.”

When asked what they enjoyed most about the Raven Room, one visitor responded, “I think that this service is an excellent idea – as it is hard to try and get to see your Dr. [The] waiting period at hospital is so out of this world.”

This year’s Raven Room theme was “the strength and wisdom of Elders.” Many Elders offered “their most valuable teaching” or “what they want to share with the younger generation” for an Elder’s Wisdom Wall (see photos).

FNHA also used other rooms to host great workshops about sports physiotherapy and taping, painting, and cedar weaving. Tournament participants and spectators were also invited to meet with traditional healers throughout the week.

Congratulations to all competitors and all those involved in organizing this event!

Person holding sign with advice for the younger generation.

What do you want to share with the younger generation? “Respect everyone! Compassion! Abuse of drugs and alcohol – say no!”

Woman holding sign with her advice for the younger generation.

What do you want to share with the younger generation? “Never give up, LOVE yourself is to respect yourself as a person. Find help when life pressure gets to hard. We DO LOVE you. you are not alone.”

Shelby Petersen

About Shelby Petersen

Shelby is the Web Services Coordinator with Indigenous Health. Shelby has over five years of experience working in content development and digital marketing. After graduating with a degree in Political Science from UNBC, Shelby moved to Vancouver where she pursued a career in digital marketing. Most recently, Shelby was the Senior Content Developer and Project Manager with a digital advertising agency in Vancouver, British Columbia. Born and raised in Prince George, Shelby is thrilled to be back in the community and spending time outside enjoying everything that the North has to offer.

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“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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IMAGINE Grants: Agwiiyeet’inim̓ ahl g̱ahlgim̓ – We pass it on to our children

When Liza Haldane, LELP Coordinator, applied for an IMAGINE grant on behalf of the Lisims Early Learning Partnership, she wanted to honour the early learning table’s goals of celebrating their pre- and postnatal families by hosting an event that also raised awareness of the gaps in services for vulnerable members of the Nisga’a Nation: Lax̱galts’ap, Gingolx, Gitlax̱t’aamiks and Gitwinksihlkw (northwest of Terrace). For a goal like this to be achieved, she recognized that including the traditional and cultural values of the Nisga’a region would be very important. The relationships between generations and families would also have to be considered in the planning process and the event would have to carefully balance different traditions alongside the needed pre- and postnatal services. With all that in mind, project “Agwiiyeet’inim̓ ahl g̱ahlgim̓ – We pass it on to our children” was born!

A family hugging and smiling together.The goals of the project and event included:

  1. Honour the families who are expecting or who have newborn infants, and celebrate newborns in a traditional ceremony.
  2. Raise community awareness of the importance of supporting families who are expecting and who have newborn infants.
  3. Work together and practice Nisga’a law of Sayt-k’ilim-goot (one heart; to be united) by sharing services and resources for the betterment of Nisga’a families.
  4. Register families for existing programs and services.

How it happened:

Part of raising community awareness for supporting new or expecting families was done by welcoming entire families and the community to the event. This meant, during the event, families were circled and a prayer was said, making a commitment to support these families in raising their children.

At the event, prenatal families were invited to the front of the hall, honoured with a poem, and given a canvas painting to acknowledge their commitment to bringing a baby into this world. Families with newborns had the opportunity to have their questions answered, via a customized questionnaire that was provided. The babies were welcomed into their community with a beautiful house crest blanket, adorned upon them by their Wilp family members (members of a Wilp are all descendants of a common female ancestor). The total number of babies: 23 altogether!

A creative drawing of a pregnant woman.In order to share existing resources and programs, LELP partners, including early learning centers, public health nurses, community health representatives, Success By Six, and village governments, worked together and were united in delivering the ceremonies. Having partners experience and share equal time in the ceremonies helped balance tradition and incorporate wellness. After the ceremony, registration forms were made available and parents registered their children for the Imagination Library (books to kids program). Service providers spoke during the post-ceremony meal, promoting Dax̱gadim Anluuhlkw (translates to Strong Nest, which is a delivery and development strong start program), Welcome Baby Bags, and other relevant services.

“These events were so emotional. To see two to three generations of families proudly welcoming their babies into the community evoked emotions of happiness, pride, and so much love! At the end, we encircled the families in a community prayer, holding them up with words of strength and encouragement – it was very spiritual and moving.

A Chief got up and spoke at the end of the Laxgalt’sap/Gingolx event – he was full of gratitude and blessings for the ceremony. He said after tonight, he was once again filled with hope for our community, our culture and traditions. It brought many of us to tears.”

-Liza Haldane

What’s next?

As a result of this successful event and the sparked interest in traditional child rearing, organizers delivered a “Yask” workshop (rights of passage) for pre- and postnatal families and are working together to deliver another set of welcome baby ceremonies. These workshops will eventually rotate into smaller communities. The plan is to deliver ceremonies annually!

What is a Northern Health IMAGINE grant?

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 look for applicants that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities.

 

 

 

 

 

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First Nations communities explore and celebrate cultural models of mental wellness

When I heard the Terrace, Kitimat and Area Indigenous Health Improvement Committee (IHIC)-previously known as the Aboriginal Health Improvement Committee (AHIC)- members were coming together to share examples of how their communities had embraced culture as a means of improving mental wellness, I was excited. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a cultural experience that shows off community strengths and traditional values? I knew this was going to be a memorable event for myself and all who attended – and guess what? I was not let down!

Indigenous gathering at Kitselas

Over 60 people from First Nations communities in the Northwest, came together to share how their communities had embraced culture as a means of improving mental wellness.

On June 8th, 2017, Kitselas First Nation hosted a “Celebration of Successes” event showcasing three First Nations community projects that explore mental wellness from a community and cultural perspective.

Coming together

Over 60 people from Kitselas, the Terrace/Kitimat and Area Indigenous Health Improvement Committee (IHIC), and its member communities, attended the celebration in Kulspai. The event started off with a welcome to the Tsimshian territory from elder Edward Innes and a welcome from former councillor Lynn Wright-Parker. Jennifer Brady-Giles, the Kitselas Home and Community Health Nurse facilitated the day.

Indigenous people conducting a welcome.

The event started off with a welcome to the Tsimshian territory.

Jonathan Cooper, the Northern Health Kitimat Health Services Administrator and Terrace/Kitimat and Area IHIC Chair, and I, Victoria Carter, Northern Health Lead for Engagement and Integration with Indigenous Health, gave an overview of the IHIC and its work. Communities shared their projects and attendees were even entertained by the Kitselas drummers, who performed some songs and a wonderful lunch was served that all participants shared in!

Curious about what community projects were shared? The projects came from the Kitselas First Nation, Nisga’a Valley Health Authority, and the Gitxsan West communities. Here’s what they did:

Kitselas First Nation

Kitselas showcased their youth wellness video which highlighted the current youth activities in Kitselas and their future vision.

 

Nisga’a Valley Health Authority

The Nisga’a Valley Health Authority showcased their family conference which focuses on integrating culture into health and wellness services by incorporating traditional teachings and events.

Gitxsan West

Gitxsan West communities showcased their project of reigniting Gitxsan culture within mental health.  In this project, knowledge holders from the communities came together to identify and document Gitxsan traditional mental wellness and will begin to strategize how best to reignite these practices.

Sharing success

Traditional knowledge holders met to share and to strategize how this information will be used.  Many at the celebration spoke up to praise the projects, to share their own stories, to show support of the initiatives, and to offer words of encouragement for these innovative approaches to wellness. Appreciation in the room grew as ideas of cultural renewal and its healing power were shared.

Sponsorship of the event and projects were supplied by the Terrace/Kitimat and Area IHIC. Curious what an Indigenous Health Improvement Committee (IHIC)/Aboriginal Health Improvement Committee (AHIC) is? There are eight AHICs/IHICs across the north made up of leads from Indigenous communities, Northern Health, the First Nations Health Authority, and other sectors. AHICs/IHICs identify health challenges facing Indigenous people in the area and work collaboratively towards solutions.

At this event, Kitselas, Nisga’a Valley Health Authority, and the Gitxsan West communities shared their projects and how they have benefited their communities.  It was a great opportunity to learn about how the Terrace/Kitimat and Area IHIC, and health leads from Indigenous communities and groups like Northern Health and the First Nations Health Authority, are collaborating to address community needs and suggestions in innovative ways.

Thanks go to Kitselas for hosting this amazing event!

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: Northwest Fish Tacos

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jeannie Parnell, a community developer with a passion for food. We recently did a joint presentation on nutrition and Indigenous Food Sovereignty. It was exciting to hear her talk about how she makes wholesome meals for her family by incorporating harvested traditional foods alongside foods purchased from the store.

Indigenous food, harvest, tacos

Jeannie Parnell is a community developer with a passion for food!

Jeannie is from the Stellat’en First Nation, near Fraser Lake, and currently resides in Prince Rupert with her husband and son. She explains:

“I wanted to make a healthier version of what is now being called the ‘Indian tacos’ Jeannie told me. ‘Indian Tacos’ are usually made with fried white bannock, topped off with chili, cheese and sour cream, and having little or no vegetables. Also, some Indigenous people are lactose intolerant so I wanted to create a recipe with the option of no cheese or sour cream with the addition of vegetables. I call this recipe the ‘Northwest Fish Taco’. The Northwest Fish Taco provides a healthy alternative that is less time consuming to make and is more versatile—you can use baked salmon or vary the vegetables!”

Jeannie likes to make most of her meals from food she and her family have harvested. She explains that they taste better and incorporate her family’s traditions:

Growing up as a family of nine, we relied heavily on our own Indigenous foods to supplement our food budget. My brothers are hunters. My mother did the fishing for our family for many years. My traditional teachings come from my mom who kept those going. She always had a smokehouse and did her own canning. We had a huge garden that we worked in as kids. I am so thankful for all of this; it enhanced my quality of life.”

Salmon, (which is rich in protein, omega 3 fats, vitamin D, and vitamin A) as part of healthy diet, can help us in overall wellness. Health Canada recommends that we eat 2 – 4 servings per week of fatty fish like salmon. This taco recipe is a delicious way to get in one of those servings! Check out the First Nations Health Authority Traditional Foods Fact sheets or these food and nutrition fact sheets for more information.

I’m looking forward to trying Jeannie’s Northwest Fish Tacos!

Coleslaw

  • ½ head of purple or green cabbage, sliced
  • 2-3 Tbsp. of vegetable oil (try olive or grapeseed oil)
  • Juice from 1 lemon or 2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Mix together. Set aside in the fridge.

tacos, harvest, indigenous food

Healthy and delicious tacos!

Tortillas

  • 6-8 corn or flour tortillas
  • ½ Tbsp. of vegetable oil such as olive oil

Heat the oil in a cast iron pan. Add tortillas and toast both sides until golden brown. Put aside.

 Fish

  • ½ of a left over baked salmon, broken into chunks and bones removed
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable such as olive oil

Heat the oil in a cast iron pan. Add fish and toast on both sides until a little crunchy.

Avocado Dressing

  • ½ avocado
  • ½ cup of fresh dill (if using dried, use less)
  • Juice from ½ lemon (or 1 Tbsp. bottled lemon juice)
  • ¼ cup of water

Blend until smooth.

To serve:

Put salmon into each tortilla with the coleslaw on top. Top with avocado dressing and a squeeze of lemon. Serve with salad and roasted sweet potatoes if desired. Makes 6 – 8 tacos.

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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Breastfeeding: a cultural approach can make all the difference

In 1977, Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Plains Cree woman from the Piapot reserve, appeared on Sesame Street explaining breastfeeding to Big Bird as she breastfed her son, Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild. This was the first time breastfeeding had been shown on a major television station. At the time, this was quite radical. Mothers had been taught since the early 1900s that they should rely on experts for advice and they were recommending formula. In 1977, to push back against “experts” to promote breastfeeding was groundbreaking.

Creating cultural connection through breastfeeding
Since then, we’ve learnt a lot about about the importance of culture in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and we’re beginning to understand the role breastfeeding plays in connecting to culture. Breastfeeding creates a strong physical bond between mothers and babies that carries the cultural values and beliefs of the mother to the child, connecting the child to the past and future. Research shows that Indigenous moms who have strong cultural and spiritual resources to turn to, take up and keep up breastfeeding, at rates better than the overall population of nursing mothers. For example, Rhodes (2008) found Indigenous women most connected to traditional ways were sixteen times more likely to breastfeed.

The valuable contributions culture can bring to breastfeeding and health has been weakened by colonization. Widespread disruption of home, family and cultural connections has harmed generations of Indigenous people in Canada through Residential Schools, Indian Hospitals, and other high level policies.The widespread disruption caused by colonization meant the loss of mothers, aunties, and grandmothers who were crucial to the success of young mothers’ breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding & child health
Not breastfeeding has a high price.The report on child health released by Northern Health’s Chief Medical Health officer last year, showed rates of early childhood dental caries/cavities (ECC) in northern BC five times the provincial average, and children living in northern regions undergo surgery for dental issues at three times the provincial average. The risk for early childhood caries is greater in some Indigenous communites with higher rates of bottle feeding and, in these cases, a cultural approach to breastfeeding is an effective protective factor against ECC.(See: Cidro et al. Breast feeding practices as cultural interventions for early childhood caries in Cree communities, 2015.)

Creating healthy cultural practice
Supporting Indigenous mothers will require extra care from health care providers. Understanding the importance of culture in supporting breastfeeding can reduce the specific and systemic barriers that exist for Indigenous mothers. Many mothers are hungry for the connection between themselves, their children, and their culture. Many loved ones and community members may also want to understand and reclaim their roles in supporting breastfeeding as a cultural practice.

You could be an important bridge for reclaiming these connections. Questions to ask a breastfeeding mother could include:

  • Would you like an Elder or trusted loved one to be part of the visit?
  • Are there any cultural and traditional practices that would be helpful for you?
  • Is there anything special that would help you in breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding, supported as a healthy cultural practice, promises much for improving and restoring health and well-being within Indigenous communities. Providing culturally safe services is a call to action: what can we do to promote breastfeeding in a culturally safe way for the Indigenous mothers in our care? What is it you can do?

Overall,  being aware of the underlying impacts of past negative experiences and how they’ve influenced Indigenous people’s encounters with the health care system is most important. If you can do this, you will send the message that you know about and are ready to respect the cultural bonds of breastfeeding.

We know that discussion of sensitive topics like this may cause distress. Please ensure you or the people you are working with have access to the supports you need.

Want to learn more? Check out:

 

Citations:

  • Rhodes et al. American Indian Breastfeeding Attitudes and Practices in Minnesota Maternal and Child Health Journal July 2008, Volume 12, Supplement 1, pp 46–54
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie started CradleBoard a site to improve curriculum. You can access this interactive web site at http://www.cradleboard.org/2000/mission.html though not all links work.
  • Cidrio, et al. feeding practices as cultural interventions for early childhood caries in Cree communities https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4409764/

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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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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