The toxic drug crisis disproportionately affects Aboriginal Peoples. But accessing much needed health care continues to pose challenges for Aboriginal Peoples due to systemic racism and the lack of culturally safe care.
Ensuring health-care services are safe and free from discrimination is an ongoing journey at Interior Health. Building relationships, working to decolonize health care and health-care settings, and providing education opportunities for staff offer pathways to understanding and reconciliation.
In Creston, the Yaqan Nuʔkiy (Lower Kootenay) Band and IH staff have formed the Ki?su?k Awumu (Good Medicine) Working Group to address the needs of Aboriginal Peoples. The group came together to initiate collaborative discussions between the Band and IH staff, and now meets regularly to provide focus and direction around increasing understanding, educating staff, strengthening relationships, healing, and implementing effective ways to serve Aboriginal clients.
During discussions, one of the topics the group focused on was a sturgeon-nosed canoe located on the main floor of the Creston Valley Hospital. This canoe was constructed by four Ktunaxa Nation youth 10 years earlier, and was presented as a gift to the hospital during National Addictions Awareness Week on November 23, 2012. Members of the Yaqan Nuʔkiy Band carried this canoe through harsh weather along a 6 km route to the hospital to present it as part of a commitment to a healthy and healing partnership. The sturgeon-nosed canoe is “representative of life” and unique to the Yaqan Nuʔkiy Band.
Regretfully, this symbol of healing between the Band and the hospital became forgotten in an almost out of sight area of the hospital.
As clinical operations director for Creston Valley Hospital Walter Felitsyn shares, “We asked ourselves, how can we refresh and honour the significance of this gift? In consultation with an Aboriginal Patient Navigator, IH staff rediscovered how to relate our commitment to reconciliation, and honour the gift of the canoe appropriately as part of the path to healing and relationship building.”
In September 2022, Walter offered on behalf of Interior Health a gift of tobacco to Yaqan Nuʔkiy Band Nasuʔkin Jason Louie to signify the promise of renewed respect and commitment to honour this very important gift.
Today, the canoe is in its rightful – and respectful – place: displayed as a central piece in the hospital lobby under museum-quality glass. Its new location has revived interest in and curiosity about the canoe from both staff and visitors. Work is underway in collaboration with Yaqan Nuʔkiy Band to establish a video display above the canoe to share its history and significance, and the Ktunaxa Nation’s culture.