It takes a community to raise a teepee
The Bonnyville Health Centre held its first teepee-raising ceremony on Thursday, June 21. It began as an idea to commemorate National Aboriginal Day, but it soon evolved into a celebration that impacted parti
About 100 people gathered on the south grounds of the Bonnyville Health Centre, including people from First Nations and Métis communities in the area, health centre and Alberta Health Services (AHS) staff, and Bonnyville residents.
Alex Smyl, Bonnyville Health Centre Executive Director, says hosting the teepee raising at the health centre was a natural fit. With Aboriginal people being such an integral part of the community, he says we can all learn or refresh our cultural awareness, and, in turn, strengthen our respect. Alex feels it is an extreme honour to have the opportunity to participate in cultural experiences such as this and spend time with Aboriginal elders.
The celebration began with the raising of a teepee by members of Kehewin Cree Nation (located south of Bonnyville), overseen by Traditionalist Glen Youngchief. Once raised, about 20 people gathered inside and sat in a circle for a pipe ceremony.
The ceremony began with smudging, where all inside cleansed themselves with smoke from burning sweetgrass by wafting the smoke over their bodies. Glen prayed to Mother Earth with a pipe full of sweetgrass in hand and then passed it around for people to smoke or to touch to their hearts, a sign of love and respect.
The pipe was passed until it burned out, followed by an offering of gifts to Glen for blessing through prayer. Lorraine Berube, AHS Director Clinical Operations, Area 8, and Alex made individual offerings of prints (swaths of coloured cloth), tobacco and a braid of sweetgrass to be blessed.
Alex asked for Glen to bless Bonnyville Health Centre patients (current and those who have passed), staff and anyone else who walks through the doors of the facility. Lorraine asked for blessings to all health care providers in the area, and for AHS Aboriginal partnerships and initiatives to continue and to thrive.
A bridge between Aboriginal people and the health system
One specific Aboriginal partnership was an important part of the day’s celebrations. In recent months, the Bonnyville Health Centre’s relationship with local Aboriginal communities has been strengthened by an AHS pilot program based within the facility.
The program, which began in November 2011, places an Aboriginal Health Liaison onsite to help Aboriginal people access health services and educate staff on how best to work with Aboriginal patients.
Marlene Collins, the Aboriginal Health Liaison, works closely with Covenant Health and AHS staff. It didn’t take her long to recognize the importance of, and need for, her role. Marlene assists Aboriginal patients in as many ways as she can, including bedside visits, answering questions and easing concerns, and providing translation assistance in Cree.
She says patients have been thrilled to have her as a resource, and comforted in simply having someone they can relate to. Marlene also says health centre staff have been very supportive of the new role, and eager to learn more about cultural differences and how those impact Aboriginal people in the health system.
Marlene’s AHS colleague, Louise Gadwa, Aboriginal Health Program Coordinator for northeast Alberta, sparked the idea of the tepee-raising ceremony at the health centre as a way to help profile Marlene’s role with the Aboriginal community. Louise identifies gaps in health services and builds partnerships to meet the health needs of Aboriginal people in northeastern Alberta.
In small communities like Bonnyville, strong partnerships, such as the one between Aboriginal people, Covenant Health and AHS, ensure quality health care.
View photos from the event in our Photo Gallery!