June 21 marks Indigenous Peoples Day, a special day on summer solstice dedicated to celebrating and learning about the diverse cultures, voices, experiences and histories of Indigenous Peoples. To honour the occasion and the three Indigenous residents who live at Holy Family Long-Term Care – Sybil, Dora and Clive – music therapist Melissa Donaldson researched and coordinated an Indigenous Day special edition of the site’s regular radio show.

“The residents were involved in the planning as much as they chose to be and felt comfortable with, and they looked over and verified the compiled research of what was shared about Nisga’a and Haida Nations,” says Melissa. “I wanted to ensure that the program was carried out as respectfully and thoughtfully as possible. Jaye Currie, Indigenous Wellness Liaison, kindly reviewed the program itinerary beforehand and supported our Indigenous residents on and around the actual day – it was so wonderful to have her involved!”

The program began with an acknowledgment of the unceded, traditional and ancestral lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples where Holy Family Hospital is situated. Elements of the Nisga’a and Haida Nation cultures of the Holy Family residents in attendance were represented throughout the event in the form of prayers, interviews and traditional songs.

Melissa paid tribute to Elder Carole, a resident who lived at Holy Family until her passing on Indigenous Peoples Day in 2020, due to COVID-19. Carole dedicated her life to advocating for culturally safe health care and was a long time champion of Indigenous health and rights in British Columbia. Melissa shared a recording of Carole Dawson that was taken just a few short hours before her passing. Elder Carole’s recording was of a personal greeting and acknowledgement of National Indigenous People’s Day for the staff and residents at Holy Family​.

Carole was a champion of Indigenous health care rights who played an integral role in improving health care and child welfare through her work with Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. A survivor of St. Michael’s Residential School at Alert Bay, Carole overcame great trauma, violence, and loss to help and heal others as an addictions and sexual abuse counselor.

Following the tribute to Carole, Jaye from the Indigenous Wellness and Reconciliation Team spoke about her role at Providence Health Care (PHC) and the work that the organization is undertaking toward our commitment to embedding reconciliation in everything we do. She emphasized the importance of educating oneself about the histories and experiences of Indigenous Peoples as a crucial first step toward cultural safety, truth and reconciliation.

“For me, the essence of this work is building those relationships and trust and allowing our Indigenous patients to be proud of who they are and where they come from —it is a very important piece of our healing process as Indigenous Peoples—physical, spiritually, emotionally and mentally,” says Jaye. “My thoughts keep going back to Dora—a resident from the Sto:lo Nation—she opened up when I started sharing an intertribal song by Northern Cree Drum Group; I am from the community of Maskawcis (Plain Cree), Alberta. Dora lit up and shared that she used to play traditional handgames (a traditional Indigenous game) when she was younger. Up until then, she had felt uncomfortable sharing about culture as she was a residential school survivor. When the music started playing, Dora started playing the hand games with me. Then Sybil joined in. I have never seen her smile like that.”

Additional speakers included Cecilia Moore of Spiritual Health and Shaf Hussain, Vice President of Public Affairs Communications and Stakeholder Engagement. A Buffy Sainte Marie song concluded the program.

Following the radio show, the three honoured residents and their special guests enjoyed a lunch showcasing traditional Indigenous foods such as maple-glazed salmon, halibut, bison meatloaf, bannock and lemon blueberry cornmeal cake, organized by dietitian Katie Johnston . A curated playlist of Indigenous musicians played throughout the luncheon.

Holy Family’s hit radio show was started by Melissa and supported by Cecilia during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to bring joy and togetherness at a time when residents were isolated from their loved ones, and sometimes even each other. More than two years on, the radio show runs four days a week and has become a regular part of life at Holy Family, with residents regularly participating as weather reporters, comedians, singers and production assistants.

“The radio show started off quite simply, but now it’s become a regular part of life at Holy Family,” says Melissa. “I’ve had a lot of support from Cecilia – she brings a lot of hype.”

June is National Indigenous History Month, an opportunity to honor and recognize the rich and diverse cultures, languages and traditions of Indigenous Peoples across Canada. Most importantly, it is a month to celebrate the strength and resiliency of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, families and individuals.