On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and every day, it’s important for us to reflect on the Northern Health (NH) values of empathy, respect, collaboration, and innovation in the context of cultural safety, and to check in with ourselves that we’re truly acting on reconciliation. For NH capital projects, including the Stuart Lake Hospital (SLH) replacement project, this means developing a Capital Advisory Committee (CAC) early in the project that includes representatives from local First Nations. Members of all five First Nations local to Fort St. James have influenced the project from the beginning.
To support the work of the CAC, special working groups are struck as the project progresses. Like the Mills Memorial Hospital (MMH) project’s Indigenous Advisory Working Group, the SLH project is supported by a Cultural Safety Advisory Working Group (CSWG), which ensures awareness and understanding of cultural safety for Indigenous people in a healthcare setting and addresses design and cultural practices that should be taken into account in a new hospital build.
The CSWG has allowed space for conversations that are far-reaching, enlightening, and meaningful for those involved. They have been particularly educational for the SLH project team. Stories shared with us by Indigenous partners in Takla, Yekooche, Tl’azt’en, Binche, and Nak’azdli have broadened our understanding of issues facing Indigenous people seeking health care in Northern BC. The stories and ideas shared with us remain the property of the people who share them, but their influence on the new hospital in Fort St. James is clear; conversations around cultural safety, cultural practices, and ceremony have resulted in a larger palliative care room with access to the outdoors, and the provision for smudging in both the palliative care room and the designated spiritual space.
Committees and working groups help us to connect with the communities we serve, however developing real relationships is the only way to make sure health care needs are safely and appropriately met. We recognize that acknowledgment is an important step in reconciliation and is essential for moving forward, but action is vital to the process of building relationships. At SLH, we partnered with Nak’azdli Band Members for a ground blessing ceremony prior to construction starting at the site, and we have been privileged to attend community events such as National Indigenous Peoples Day at Kwah Hall in Nak’azdli, and to take part in health fairs in Yekooche and Takla. These have been opportunities to meet with the communities and hear concerns, ideas, and personal experiences of health care face to face. We are grateful for these opportunities and don’t take our inclusion lightly.
Northern Health is committed to listening and asking questions. Conversations are ongoing in the community and at the CSWG table. Healthcare is a partnership, and your feedback is always welcome. Stay in touch with us here and in person. We look forward to sharing progress on this and other capital projects on Let’s Talk Northern Health.