In the week leading up to National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is reflecting on the journey towards truth and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples throughout the region and country. We are encouraging staff and medical staff to consider what we can do as individuals and collectively as an organization to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and address health inequities within our system.
A number of teams across VCH have made commitments and participated in initiatives to support truth, reconciliation and cultural safety. We are pleased to share some of this work.
Patients at the Heatley Community Health Centre receive a bright welcome thanks to life-sized painting by Indigenous artist Jerry Whitehead.
The idea for the bespoke piece was born from the Heatley team's desire to create a more culturally safe and culturally welcoming space.
"Each week, we have an Indigenous Elder join us to speak with patients needing spiritual guidance and support yet we wanted to integrate a greater Indigenous presence in the clinic," said Dr. Jade Koide, a family physician at Heatley Community Health Centre at Vancouver Coastal Health. "We wanted to find a way to lift up indigenous voices, celebrate their history and make our clinic more beautiful, inviting and safe for our patients."
With that direction in mind, the team set out to explore various programs that support Indigenous artists. They also reached out to renowned Indigenous painter Jerry Whitehead who was quick to respond.
"We had seen so many of Jerry's beautiful murals around town and thought they would be a bright addition to our space," said Dr. Koide. "Soon after we connected, Jerry graciously came to the clinic, took a look around and agreed to paint."
Despite delays due to COVID-19, the murals were initiated and completed during the summer of 2020.
Contemporary images of larger-than-life Indigenous ancestors now adorn the walls of Heatley Community Health Centre. Not to be missed, the structural columns also received the artist's treatment, signalling strength, support and integration.
"We are so excited and grateful that Jerry Whitehead has left his mark and a lasting impression on our clinic and our patients and staff," added Koide. "We couldn't be happier with the results."
In June 2021, to honour and acknowledge the 215 children whose remains were found at the site of the former Kamloops Residential School, Powell River General Hospital staff and medical staff were given the opportunity to write a note in memory of these children on one of 215 orange hearts.
Each of the orange hearts share words remembering those who were lost, honouring the healing journey of residential school survivors, families and communities. Some share calls to action from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
The hearts were laminated and hung on the community garden fence as a memorial. Now, the Powell River team have 215 messages of remembrance and calls to action to create change.
The staff and medical staff at Bella Coola General Hospital also participated in a reconciliation activity and created orange hearts with messages in remembrance of the 215 children. This display hangs in the emergency department waiting room of the hospital. (See the feature photo at the top.)