Healthy Living

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

First Nations have always had a tradition of good health as a priority in their communities. The health of the land and mental, physical and spiritual health of the people comes as second nature.

This awareness comes from a deep knowledge and spiritual connection to the natural environment. The land was shared as a way to feed each other, to stay warm and happy, with respect for the earth and a trust in the laws of nature.

Being safe and avoiding injury was necessary for the continuance of traditional ways of living like collecting food, hunting, traveling and harvesting natural resources.

“First Nations people have always had an incredible understanding of themselves, their health and their place in the world. Living wisely with good health is something we have always done, and we are often reaching back into our ancestral knowledge – our traditional ways of being and knowing – to reaffirm how we can live healthier lives today and tomorrow,” said Dr. Evan Adams, the Aboriginal Physician Advisor to the BC Provincial Health Officer.

“The generation before us hardly interacted with the health care system–often only just near the end of life. If the entire health care system disappeared today, we would still be taking care of each other, and we are taking care of each other. It was said that all we have to do in life is to go out and help the people.” 

The statistics today show what many First Nations already know. Preventable accidents impact a high number of communities and families.

Rural and urban living both have unique challenges. Something as simple as crossing the street can be dangerous in the big city, whereas rural people deal with the issues related to remote and isolated living.

Many preventable injuries in 2012 are still related to traditional and respected cultural activities like hunting, boating, hiking and dealing with wildlife.

Today, First Nations people are also influenced by new risk factors that all community members need to be aware of. Some frequently noted preventable accidents include chemical safety, intoxication, motor vehicle safety and forms of violence.

It has been shown that up to90 per cent of injuries are predictable and preventable with a little bit of mindfulness. This can be as simple as wearing a seatbelt while traveling in a motor vehicle, boat or ATV.

“Injuries are one of the leading, preventable causes of death, hospitalization, and disability among Aboriginal peoples in BC. The leading cause being motor vehicle crashes,” said Dr. Adams.

“We need to develop a strategy to support better health and longevity for First Nations by enhancing surveillance, skills, knowledge, community capacity, and support the area of injury prevention.”

The interim First Nations Health Authority (iFNHA) is encouraging BC First Nations to take control of their health messaging. The ‘Safer Nations – Injury Prevention’ 2012 Video contest is offering up $10,000 in prizes as well as provincial recognition in creating video messages that create awareness on injury prevention. The deadline for entries is April 27, 2012 and videos will be judged by a panel at the Gathering Wisdom V forum in Vancouver in May 2012. The contest is encouraging all First Nations film-makers, from the pro’s to the amateur camera phone directors to enter. 

In line with BC First Nation communities taking control of their health needs, the iFNHA is continually working to elevate the health of their people in an organization created by and working for them. Over the last number of years the First Nations Health Society (FNHS) has been diligently working under the guidance of Chiefs, Health Directors and First Nations communities in collaboration with Provincial and Federal partners.

Many important developments have taken place including the establishment of the First Nations Health Council and Health Directors Association, as well as the achievement of a number of enabling agreements with BC and Canada. Along with other political and technical changes, the FNHS recently changed their name to the interim First Nations Health Authority.

The interim period gives the organization a chance to make necessary internal changes as well as to seek out the guidance of BC First Nations in the establishment of a permanent First Nations Health Authority, creating a unique and exciting opportunity for First Nations in BC.

As things progress during the interim phase, consultation, input and collective decision making is the path being pursued while regional First Nations meet and collaborate on the formation of their governance structure.

Through advice gained from other Aboriginal peoples in places like Alaska and New Zealand who have already progressed through their own health care self-governance, BC First Nations can set the stage for other aboriginal populations across Canada and even around the globe in operating a new innovative and successful health care service delivery operation.

For more information connect online: www.fnhc.ca

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Diabetes Education Center at the West Coast General Hospital has recently undergone a change. Sue Scott, who has been the nurse educator at the Diabetes Education Center for nine years, has retired. Jody Vos, who has worked in the past as an Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council nurse has taken Sue’s place as the Nurse Educator, and is pleased to be joining Aveleigh Hess, Registered Dietician, and Dr. R. O’Dwyer, Internist , as a member of the  Diabetes Education Team.  

If you have diabetes the Diabetes Education Team can teach you how to better manage your blood sugars and your lifestyle choices.  If you or someone you care about is at risk for developing diabetes the Diabetes Education Team can help you to reduce the risk and possibly delay the onset of diabetes.

If you are curious about what the Diabetes Education Center is all about and want to come and meet the team, you too are welcome. Learning about healthy lifestyle choices can help your whole family reduce the risk of Type II Diabetes.

The Diabetes Education Team would like to invite and encourage all members of the community to take the opportunity to join them at an open house for a meet and greet afternoon at the Diabetes Education Center on June 29, 2011 from  1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

While Diabetes Type II is a progressive disease the good news is that if diabetes is managed the complications can be minimized or avoided.  


  • Older than 45 years of age
  • Had a baby over nine pounds
  • Have a family member with Diabetes
  • Are of Aboriginal descent
  • Waist measurement  of over 40 inches for men,  and over 34 inches for women
  • Overweight
  • Have High Blood Pressure

If you answered yes to three or more of these risk factors you are at risk of developing Diabetes!

Education Programs  presently  offered:

  • New Diagnosis Program
  • 3 month Review Group
  • 6 month Review Group
  • Annual Review Group
  • Monthly Insulin Group First Tuesday of the month 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.  (for clients who are currently on insulin therapy)
  • Heart Matters Group
  • Individual appointments available on request.

The Diabetes Education Center at West Coast General Hospital is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  3949 Port Alberni Hwy Port Alberni B.C. V9Y 4S1. Ph:  (250) 724-8824

Appointments are available in Tofino and Ucluelet once a month. Appointments can be made at the Physicians offices.

Aveleigh and Jody provide Individual appointments throughout the three days the Diabetes Education Center is open, and on Wednesday afternoon the center is open for drop ins. 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. A referral from your doctor is not necessary to make an appointment.

The Diabetes Education Team is working on a new collaboration with Nuu-chah-nulth, and therefore Matilda Watts, Diabetes Educator shall be attending the open house. The team is working on a plan to provide regular collaborative sessions to Aboriginal community members. Watch for the announcements.

We look forward to seeing you at the open house June 29, 11 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Gilakasla Gigagame! Gilakasla Nuu-chah-nulth! Nugwa’um T’lakwadzi. Guya’tlan D’zadaineuk, guya’tlan Wei wai kum.

I thank the chiefs and ancestors of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation where I am working and where my five children and my partner come from.

For de-colonizing purposes, I would like to be called T’lakwadzi, which is my Kwakwaka’wakw ancestral name; however, my non-indigenous name is Gary Dawson-Quatell.

My Dawson name comes from Kingcome Inlet tribe and my Quatell name from the Campbell River tribe. I recently completed my Bachelor of Social Work in the First Nations Specialization stream at the University of Victoria.

I have a strong passion for our Indigenous people and love helping them in any fashion to my best ability! Growing up with my grandparents in Kingcome really helped to push this envelope of care for the Indigenous and all people for a matter of fact.

As a Resolution Health Support Worker (RHSW), this position requires numerous tasks and responsibilities. To highlight a few: interacting with survivors in all five components of the Indian Residential School Survivor Settlement Agreement (IRSSSA). The Common Experience Payment (CEP) and the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) are two of the five components, which will be at the forefront of the work we will do in the Nuu-chah-nulth communities.

Not only will we be there to support them through the application process, we will aid survivors in her/his hearing process, and the follow-ups after the hearing process.

As most that have been involved in this overall IRSSSA, they have come to form an opinion that the overall process is very cumbersome and very oppressive. Therefore, I will provide cultural and emotional support throughout the overall process.

Although, there is no hearing process with the CEP, the IAP has the hearing process and is very intrusive, and for many survivors, she or he have never told her/his physical and/or sexual abuse stories from her/his experiences in residential school.

Our mandate is a bit different than the RSHW’s that was hired by Health Canada. For the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation we will be positioned in a higher capacity for the Nuu-chah-nulth survivors and their families.

A huge part of our positions will be to encourage the de-colonizing aspects. Moreover, the cultural aspect to healing plays a huge part in our role as Nuu-chah-nulth RHSWs. Thus, letting the survivors know of the various supports throughout the entire process is at the top of my tasks and responsibilities!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pearl Dorward recites a prayer at the beginning of each day. She says it grounds her in a good space to fulfill her role as the First Nations Nurse Advocate at West Coast General Hospital (WCGH).

“If I don’t, my day doesn’t go right,” she says.

It’s just before 7 a.m. and it’s quiet in the atrium environment of the main square of the hospital. Water trickles from a nearby water feature, and the overhead lights hum as people, waiting to get their blood work done, speak in hushed tones.

Pearl checks her computer and sees she has a couple of appointments after her rounds. A young mother whose newborn needs follow-up care is required to sign papers and needs help to secure travel funding. A Nuu-chah-nulth patient is confused about his doctor’s strategy for dispensing his pain medication. Pearl will meet with doctor and patient together to help them better understand the other’s perspective and concerns.

Each day brings new challenges with new situations, and the nurse advocate is there to help guide people through their often confusing and challenging involvement with the healthcare system, from the minute they walk through the door to the aftercare they’ll need when they make it home.

From the celebration of a baby’s birth, to extreme patient illness, to emergency situations like car accidents, even death, the nurse advocate must be able to help families navigate the often foreign environment of the hospital.

Ellen Brown, the Site Director at WCGH, calls Pearl a way-finder.

Brown describes the First Nations Nurse Advocate’s role as pivotal. She can’t imagine, Brown said, trying to provide hospital services without someone in that position, who is a link to the community, understanding of both the First Nations culture and the culture of health care.

Pearl not only provides great comfort and support in often very stressful times, she’s knowledgeable about the services available to clients once they leave the hospital environment and travel home to sometimes remote locations, said Brown.

“Pearl is there to set things up.”

Family pictures adorn the walls of Pearl’s comfortable office in the hospital’s main square. Fine art mingles with health posters. Their messages are diverse: “It’s everyone’s duty to act on adult abuse and neglect,” one reads, for example; the words ‘maa mush’ mean breastfeeding in the Nuu-chah-nulth language, reads another.

Pearl has worked in the nurse advocate position for about five years, now. After working for many years in medical surgery, and 10 years with psych patients, she started to provide relief work in the position when her sister Ina Seitcher was the nurse advocate.

When Seitcher went on to become the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Home Care Supervisor, Pearl applied for and was given the job fulltime.

Pearl admits that she leaned heavily on her sister’s experience for the first while, until she became fully confident that she knew how to deal with each situation as it would arise. Now it’s not only confidence she exudes as she goes about her day’s activities, she’s obviously in love with the job, and it shows in her interactions with her hospital patients and the other staff.

When asked why a First Nations Nurse Advocate is an important role to have in the hospital setting, Pearl quotes a man she met in the course of her work. Aboriginal people want to know that a “brown-skinned” friend is there standing beside them.

Some people come to the hospital and they have no family close by to just hold their hand. She said one man who attended the hospital just wanted Pearl to sit by his side, and that’s what Pearl did. Put everything aside, because he was afraid and he needed her.

Sometimes the job calls for babysitting a child while a young mother goes in for an ultrasound. Sometimes the job is about providing hospital staff with workshops to increase their understanding about First Nations people and, in the process, improve cultural safety for aboriginal hospital clients.

Some days are really hectic, Pearl said, and very stressful.

But when it slows down, she takes time to visit with Elders who are alone in the city, checking in on them to see how they are coping, doing some foot care or whatever she can for them.

Pearl reports to the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, but her role is funded by the Vancouver Island Health Authority. She is an integral part of the hospital team, said Brown, adding a hospital stay can be a very dramatic event in a person’s life.

Pearl is called to manage the times when people’s lives are being turned upside down, and she helps prepare for sending patients home to places where resources can be few and far between.

The plan for discharging a patient begins the moment he or she comes through the door, said Pearl. And the nurse advocate is a part of the team that helps navigate those waters.

On Pearl’s desk is a green plastic toy dinosaur. It sits next to an abalone shell filled with willow fungus smudge. There’s a green tomato desk clock with feet, and a gremlin doll. A cedar rose is pinned on a corkboard next to a dreamcatcher made of leather, beads and feathers. A china doll dressed in pioneer attire sits atop a book hutch which holds a variety of publications and binders with names like “The Drug Guide” and “HIV/AIDS and Hep C.”

Pearl explains that there is a lot of paperwork associated with the job of nurse advocate. She keeps two notebooks to chart information on the people she sees during the day.

At 8 a.m. it’s time for her rounds and she makes her way through to the medical/surgical care centre where she looks over the charts of patients who have been admitted.

She enters an elderly woman’s room, sits next to her on the hospital bed and gives her a hug. Pearl tells the patient how happy she is to see her out of the Intensive Care Unit and that she is eating. They talk quietly as nurses scurry in and out of rooms, changing the dressings on people’s wounds, preparing to transfer patients out to other hospitals. In this busy world, the nurse advocate can be a life raft in a turbulent sea of sickness and suffering.

The usual machines that roll and beep clutter hallways. Meds are being dispensed, and IV poles stand at attention ready for service. Pearl writes some notes in her book as she exits a room. She listens more than she speaks, but when she comments it is to move the conversation along to how the patient is really doing in the hospital environment. Pearl listens to complaints and provides some advice. The patients’ concerns are Pearl’s concerns.
People wave to her as she goes by. She doesn’t rush, and her hugs are frequent. She spends 15 minutes here, another 20 minutes there. Pearl leans in as she listens to an elder’s story.

“Ah, she’s a sweet lady,” Pearl says as she comes out from the visit.

She goes into the section of the hospital called ambulatory care. The nurses sit at a raised round desk in the centre of the room and the patients are positioned in beds around that circle like the spokes of a wheel. Each bed is separated only by a curtain, and yet it is very quiet.

Pearl heads to one patient and sits by his bedside. She puts her hand on his wrist and speaks quietly to him. He’s not from around here. In fact, he’s a long way from his home in The Pas, Manitoba.

Sometimes it just takes sitting next to a patient to let them know that someone is there for them, especially if they are alone, without family or other supports.

After visiting with the hospital social worker it’s time to phone the new mom to see how she is making out with plans to get her baby to Victoria for treatment.  Dealing with patient needs is not always easy. As needs and wants change, so do the arrangements.

“Now it’s getting complicated,” Pearl says when she gets off the phone. She puts her face in her hands and laughs. Things were all planned. Now Pearl has to start over.

Pearl’s job requires her to liaise with other NTC nurses. She’ll place referrals with the mental health program, with Usma. She’ll meet to discuss signage in emergency, or advise and consult on protocols around death and autopsy. She’ll seek guidance on these and other subjects from elders, and work to increase cultural awareness in the hospital setting.

Without her or the position the continuity of service for First Nations people at West Coast General would be much more disjointed, says NTC acting nursing manager Chris Lemphers.

But regardless of how busy the nurse advocate becomes, it’s all in a day’s work. After charting her patient visits and chasing down a doctor or two for the required paperwork needed to complete some homecare, Pearl will say another prayer, thankful for the day in the job that she loves.

“Some people dream about retirement,” she says. “I never want to retire.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Tuesday March 15, numerous staff members travelled to Ditidaht for a Service Provider Information session that was organized by Ruby Ambrose and Joanne John, Ditidaht, Health Services Manager.

Staff included, Robert Cluett, Delavina Lawrence (NIHB), Jeannette Watts (Nurse Manager), Kim Erickson (Quu?usa Youth Counsellor), Lynnette Lucas (Education Manager), Richard Watts and Gary Dawson-Quatell (Resolution Health Workers), Matilda Atleo (Health Promotion and Social Development—Sr. Community Health Development Worker), Donna Lucas (Child & Youth Mental health), Lani McClellan (Supported Child Development), Deb Neuwirth (Mother’s Support Outreach Program), Dave Zryd (Clinical Counsellor), Lisa Watts (Quu?asa Cultural Counsellor).

All staff provided an overview of their department and what services are available to community. We felt that the time was well spent as the Chief Counsellor and another Council member, plus an Elder were also attending this session. 

Feedback obtained from NTC staff is that they have a better insight into what other staff roles and responsibilities are. 

If you would like a NTC Service Provider Information Session in your community let us know.

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