Tuesday, November 30marks the one year anniversary of the In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous Specific Racism and Discrimination in BC Health Care report being released and there have been many changes to the Aboriginal Health team during this time. In particular, VCH is evolving the way Indigenous women receive care in the health care setting.
A team of new Aboriginal Health directors has been hired to lead in all priority areas of Indigenous health to transform the way care is delivered. This includes the areas of Indigenous Cultural Safety and Education, Indigenous Engagement and Inclusion, Indigenous Design and Projects, Indigenous Patient Experience and Professional Practice, Strategic Partnerships and Performance, Indigenous Research and Evaluation, Indigenous Mental Health and Wellness and a new particular area of focus is Indigenous Women and Family Health.
The investigation into systemic anti-Indigenous racism in the B.C. provincial health care system, as described in the In Plain Sight full report and data report, confirmed that Indigenous people suffer harms from systemic racism in health care. One of the key findings of the investigation is that Indigenous women were disproportionately impacted by systemic racism across a wide variety of measures, and that Indigenous women reported worse experiences of health care and worse health outcomes compared to Indigenous men.
VCH's Indigenous Women and Family Health team is led by Director Miranda Kelly and consists of an Indigenous Perinatal Substance Use Strategic Lead, an Indigenous Gender and Sexual Health Leader and two Indigenous Doulas. Together, they work across the health authority to ensure Indigenous knowledge and expertise is embedded in all Indigenous women's and family health-related matters, including gender equity and inclusivity, reproductive justice, perinatal health, infant and child health and anti-violence and anti-racism in health care.
“I'm proud to be leading this truly ground-breaking work and am excited for the months and years ahead as we build speciality services for Indigenous women and work to enhance access to maternal, child and reproductive health care," said Miranda Kelly, Director of Indigenous Women and Family Health at Vancouver Coastal Health.“ Our ultimate goal is to provide culturally safe and welcoming care for all aspects of Indigenous women, two-spirit and non-binary, child and family health from the perinatal period through to end of life."
At the heart of this work is the Matriarchs and Knowledge Keepers Advisory Council – a group of Indigenous Elders, physicians, nurses, social workers, midwives, doulas and Aboriginal Health team members – who draw on the knowledge from their mothers, grandmothers and ancestors to provide guidance and strategic advice. The Indigenous Women and Family Health team works in close collaboration with Dr. Don Wilson, Regional Medical Director of Indigenous Health and a practicing Obstetrician-Gynecologist at VCH.
These are some quotes referring to the important role of Indigenous women in their communities:
“We need to honour our women and honour our girls and bring back the ceremony at each stage of our lives." — Dr. Elder Roberta Price, Snuneymuxw, and Cowichan Nations
“Indigenous women embody the teachings of our mothers, grandmothers and ancestors and defy the colonial powers that have tried to dismantle our families, communities and ways of being." Declaration from Women Deliver 2019: Indigenous Women's Conference.
With the Indigenous Women and Family Health team in place, VCH is primed to significantly improve the health of Indigenous women and gender diverse people, children and families. The next step for the team is to create an Indigenous women's health strategy – the first for any regional health authority. Stay tuned for updates as this work progresses.
nəćamat is a VCH-led project that focuses on the wellness of Indigenous women in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). From 2016-2019, nəćamat was held as a one-day event to engage and provide personal wellness supports to hundreds of Indigenous women from the DTES community. Due to COVID-19, there was no event held in 2020. In 2021, the nəćamat project has adapted to an outreach model to provide wellness care bundles to Indigenous women throughout the year. We have partnered with Sheway, Budzey, Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society's – Outreach team, and Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society to distribute these bundles. The winter care kits currently being distributed include toques, gloves, Chap Stick, socks and candy canes. We also included children's kits with toques, gloves and candy canes.
The Indigenous Health research team, in collaboration with the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity (CGSHE), received support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to explore access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services among Indigenous women, gender diverse, and 2-Spirit peoples.
The project is titled, Towards Culturally Safe and Equitable Sexual, Reproductive Health and Justice for Indigenous cis and transgender women, gender diverse and Two-Spirit peoples in the context of COVID-19: Amplifying Indigenous voices. Through the use of existing survey data collected by the CGSHE, and talking circles to be led by Dr. Brittany Bingham, director of Indigenous Research and Evaluation, this study seeks to evaluate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on reproductive and sexual health service needs, access and experiences, and to understand ways to improve access to culturally safe sexual and reproductive health services among Indigenous women, gender diverse, and 2-Spirit peoples.