VICE PRESIDENT, INDIGENOUS WELLNESS AND RECONCILIATION
As part of our commitment to honour the protocols, rights, and title of the sovereign host Nations, Providence Health Care hosted a ceremonial blessing at the site of the new St. Paul’s Hospital and health campus, located on the unceded homelands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples.
Sulksun (Shane Pointe) was the Speaker and Knowledge Keeper for the ceremony, which was attended by dignitaries from the host Nations, provincial government, the First Nations Health Council and First Nations Health Authority, Providence Health Care and St. Paul’s Foundation.
Sulksun provided an overview of Coast Salish protocol governing the ceremony, and in accordance with this protocol called six Witnesses responsible for holding and sharing knowledge about the ceremony moving forward. Sulksun shared that he performed prayers and ceremony on the site of both the new hospital and the planned Indigenous Wellness and Welcoming Centre a month prior. In this ceremony, he asked for safety and strength, not only during construction, but also for staff and medical staff once the hospital is open, and for all the patients who will visit St. Paul’s Hospital in the years and decades to come.
From left to right: Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Melanie Mark, Harmony Johnson VP, Indigenous Wellness and Reconciliation, Dr. Nel Wieman, Senior Medical Officer, FNHA, Kim Brooks, VP, Regional Operations, FNHA, Lindsay Farrell, Director, Indigenous Wellness, Reconciliation and Partnerships, Tsleil-Waututh Chief Jen Thomas and Charlene Aleck, elected Councillor for Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
He shared that his great grandfather told him that the Station Street site was once tidal flats on the shores of False Creek, and a rich source of food, safety and sustenance for the Peoples of the host Nations. As he was performing the ceremony, he started laughing, because the beaver appeared to him and would not leave his mind. He realized that beavers are one of the few beings that actually change geography and ecosystems. Beavers are builders. They re-develop land to build strong homes and safe structures. That’s when he understood the land will come full circle, back to a place of healing and safety for self-identified Indigenous Peoples and their families when the new St. Paul’s Hospital opens in 2027. (He also encouraged us, in all of our artwork for the new hospital, to use beavers as much as possible!)
Board Chair Eric Harris acknowledged Providence Health Care’s deep and lasting commitment to be a respectful presence on these lands, and “provide and improve culturally safe care now and at the new hospital, in a meaningful way, by supporting the cultural and spiritual care needs of Indigenous patients accessing services from PHC.”
Eric Harris, Chair, PHC Board
The six Witnesses were invited to share reflections on what they heard and what they will carry back to their own communities. The Right Honorable Steven Point from the PHC Board called the blessing “an historic moment” for First Nations and St. Paul’s Hospital, and “hopefully the first of many to come.” Other witnesses included Tsleil-Waututh Chief Jen Thomas, Kim Brooks from the First Nations Health Authority, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Melanie Mark and Les Doiron, Interim Chair of the First Nations Health Council.
Fiona Dalton, Providence President & CEO, commented afterward that many people present at the ceremony said it was the first time in the last 18 months they’ve met in person, and it felt “right” and “good”. To do it at a blessing ceremony for the new hospital, with reconciliation at its heart, felt even better.
Sulksun remarked in Halq’emeylem, the language of the Coast Salish Peoples, that “medicine is slaxin*. The word for sacred is xa xa, and the word for home or house, is lalum. The new St. Paul’s Hospital will be a Xa Xa Slaxin Lalum, or a Sacred Medicine House, for all human beings. That is so important to me. My part in all of this is so small, so so small. But I’m still a part of the thousands of people who will work at this place and visit this place. Wow. That’s cool to me.”
* The words are spelled phonetically by Sulksun so many can see and say them. The X is deep in the throat.