Hugs, smiles and heartfelt songs accompanied the opening on Oct. 11 of a culturally safe space for First Nation families at West Coast General Hospital.
Known as the All Nations Room, the facility is one of three such spaces opening at Island hospitals, the first of more to come across the province, health officials said.
“Today’s event is something that’s been a long time coming but it was partners working together that helped to get us to where we are today,” said Brennan MacDonald of First Nations Health Authority.
The project began five years ago when a cultural safety committee, including half a dozen representatives of area First Nations, was formed to look at opportunities for improvements at West Coast General. Their work culminated in a ceremony that filled the hospital atrium with rhythm and music on Friday.
Accommodating a traditional Indigenous approach to health care recognizes the value of traditional healing practices and responds to calls for action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, remedies intended to close a glaring gap in health outcomes.
Just two generations back, Canada’s health care was racially segregated. Nanaimo Indian Hospital, now the focus of a class action suit against the federal government, was but one example, a virtual apartheid system notorious for inferior care, deplorable conditions and abuse. Even in more recent years, there was little provision at most hospitals for the wide circle of family care, traditions and practices integral to Indigenous healing, though rules and restrictions were eased in more recent years.
“This is one step closer to being able to do that,” said Judith Sayers, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president. “We bring the medicine, the love and the caring it takes to get better.”
“It’s a milestone in our journey together,” said Dr. Dorothy Williams, WCGH chief of staff.
West Coast General Hospital Foundation provided $10,000 for furnishings. The room is available around the clock on a first come, first served basis.
This story has been edited to reflect the fact the healing room does not need to be booked in advance, as was stated in a previous version.