The Indigenous Outdoor Sacred Healing Space at BC Women’s Hospital gives women and families a place to heal.
Elder Roberta Price spoke fluent Halkomelem up until the age of six when she was sent to residential school and taught to forget her language, her culture and her family.
For many years she only engaged with Western methods of healing through counselling and psychology, and it wasn’t until she was introduced to an elder that she truly began her healing journey.
Now Roberta is the elder at BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre and shares ceremony with Indigenous patients and families in often difficult situations. There was no safe space where she could perform her sage burning and other ceremonies, so BC Women’s reached out to Central City Foundation to help renew a gazebo on hospital grounds and convert it into the Indigenous Outdoor Sacred Healing Space.
The space is complete with a totem pole carved by Kwakwaka’wakw Nation artist Calvin Hunt. It characterizes a warrior woman with a double-headed serpent to represent the Indigenous women and their families. It also contains a carving of an eagle as a symbol of intelligence, power and extraordinary vision.
Roberta brings patients and families into the space to give them a moment of peace and familiarity in a time of crisis.
“We are able to sit in here in a good, respectful way and share ceremony and come back to earth, because some of the situations they may be going through are pretty serious and this is really a beautiful sanctuary where people like to come and have a moment of peace,” said Roberta.
The legacy of colonialism has made it difficult for many Indigenous people to access healthcare. For years, First Nations people could only visit segregated Indigenous hospitals where they were often given poor health care, faced discrimination and some were even held without their consent.
This legacy, together with ongoing discrimination faced by Indigenous people, has created distrust in the healthcare system, which is a part of why Indigenous people have a shorter life expectancy in Canada and are less likely to receive the care they need.
“Many of us have been so disconnected from the way it used to be in the past,” said Roberta. “So often they have not experienced the important role of elders and ceremony. What I bring in that education process is a real sense of healing and connection. I feel that each one of them appreciate it very much.”
Central City Foundation and BC Women’s both have made a commitment to implement the recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including #22 recommending that health services recognize the value and incorporate Indigenous cultural healing into the health system.
When Jenny Morgan became the Director of Indigenous Health at BC Women’s, she recognized the need for a sacred healing space.
“This was a great opportunity to develop a strong partnership with a shared vision with Central City Foundation,” said Morgan. “Over the years we have had different services and this space helped to enhance that and is one mechanism in promoting the change we want to see.”
BC Women’s and Central City Foundation have come together in other projects like funding the improvements of a examination room at Vancouver Women’s Health Collective and the Fir Square Maternity Unit.
The Sacred Healing space is another example of CCF’s commitment to working with the Indigenous community to implement culturally safe practices for Indigenous people. In the past few years we have also funded a youth wellness hub at Urban Native Youth Services, as well as helped fund the building of a Indigenous-focused medical clinical at Lu’ma Native Housing Society.
“Our partnership with CCF has been incredibly meaningful,” said Morgan. “We have worked closely together in designing this project and just to have their support has been immensely valuable and in many ways we could not have done this without their support. There are many restrictions within the hospital around budgets and we rely on partners that are there to contribute financially to project that have a lasting impact.”
For Roberta, the journey to healing herself and then to helping others heal has taken 40 years. Now she is dedicated to helping others find healing in some of the most difficult days.
“What really gives me hope is that through all my life experiences in hospital situations I would always look for my people, and there were never Indigenous people amongst the staff or the volunteers,” said Roberta. “That can make your journey really lonely. When I walk into the room it gives (patients and families) a sense of family, a sense of hope and a sense of security that someone will be with there to listen to them and to guide them through their journey.”