First Nations relationships: How can we move these forward in Coastal?

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Mike Nader | July 8th, 2015

As I prepare to go up to Sechelt Hospital and be part of a dedication ceremony for the three totem poles that are now standing tall in front of the main lobby of the new acute tower at Sechelt Hospital, I began thinking back on some of my most recent experiences with the Shíshálh Nation.SH totem poles -- July 2015

As part of the wrap-up of the process for renaming Sechelt Hospital, I recently had the privilege of attending a Sacred Mask ceremony hosted by the Band. This moving celebration was part of a tribute to organizations and people who have played a key role in ensuring Sunshine Coast residents receive the health care they deserve.

We’re only scratching the surface

As I watched – and participated in – this inspiring event, it occurred to me that in some ways, we’re still only scratching the surface in our relationships with our First Nations here in VCH-Coastal.

With 13 different First Nations communities located within VCH-Coastal – from the North Shore up to Bella Bella and Bella Coola on the Central Coast – we’re in a unique position to be able to develop relationships and help improve health outcomes for these communities.

Given the disparities in health outcomes of many First Nations people in comparison to non-Aboriginals living in the same communities, it’s important that we do our best to make some serious headway on this situation over the coming years to close the gap that exists.

Building relationships

But what’s the best way for us to go about building these relationships and partnerships in a way that shows understanding and appreciation for First Nations’ historical experience and unique cultures?

Thankfully, the completion of some recent consultation work around a project called the Mental Wellness Substance Use Flagship Project offers us a way to establish a strong foundation for moving forward.

With the commitment of VCH to addressing mental wellness and substance abuse issues and the promise of additional on-the-ground resources (5.2 FTEs in First Nations communities) as part of this project, I’m optimistic it will be the beginning of meaningful changes to how we collaborate with our First Nation communities.

In addition to this work, we’re also providing opportunities for more of our Coastal staff to go through the Cultural Competency Training course offered through VCH’s Aboriginal Health Strategic Initiatives department. This team has also prepared Toward Aboriginal Cultural Competency, a comprehensive overview of work that VCH as a whole is taking on  that I’d encourage you to read.

What do you think?

We’ve got a great opportunity to make a difference in the health of thousands of First Nations people living in our Community of Care – those living both on-reserve and off-reserve. I welcome your thoughts on how we might take further steps towards that common goal.


About the Author

Mike Nader

As Chief Operating Officer – Coastal, Mike Nader oversees the delivery of health care on the North Shore, Sea-to-Sky, Sunshine Coast, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola. Prior to this role, Mike served as the Chief Operation Officer of Richmond. Before that, he was the Executive Director of the consolidated medical imaging service at Vancouver Coastal Health, Providence Health Care, Fraser Health, and the Provincial Health Services Authority. View all posts by Mike.

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5 comments on “First Nations relationships: How can we move these forward in Coastal?

  • Sarah Levine says:

    Thank you for this article and for bringing up this topic within VCH. One concrete thing that VCH could do is to acknowledge the traditional territory that its services are located on, for example, right on the front page of our website. I noticed that the website for YouthCo HIV and Hep C Society acknowledges that they are located on Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Wauthuth territory. I was thinking that it could be a small but respectful change that we could make here at VCH.

    Sarah Levine

    • Mike Nader says:

      Hi Sarah, thanks very much for joining in the conversation and suggesting a change we can make around acknowledging First Nations traditional territories. Your suggestion is a timely one as the VCH Sr Executive Team (SET) recently approved a new Aboriginal Cultural Competency policy that outlines this practice as one that we need to ensure is addressed going forward.

      You should know that, even though the main rollout of the policy to staff won’t be for another few weeks, a number of SET members like myself have already adopted this practice in our speaking notes when we host community events at our sites.

      Given the number of First Nations that live in communities served by VCH (14 in all!) it would be difficult to have our web site reflect this appropriately. But rest assured we’ll be looking at more ways that we can continue and expand this practice.

  • Alyson says:

    I am interested to read about the ongoing steps that VCH is taking to address the present-day challenges some First Nations people are facing as a result of historical (and not-so-historical) traumas. Thank you for this article.

    The first program for First Nations healthcare mentioned in the article refers to mental health and substance use. This reference may perpetuate the belief held by many Canadians that most First Nations people are living with some mental health and/or addiction concern. While I recognize that this is a health area which needs attention, I believe it is only one of many areas of concern. By focusing solely on mental health and addictions, a multi-dimensional community may look like a one-dimensional problem (to be fixed).

    I am currently reading The Comeback by John Ralston Saul, and recommend this book to leadership at VCH. There are some perspectives presented that may prove valuable in achieving the goal of improving health outcomes to be equivalent to that of other cultures in BC.

    One of the best suggestions I’ve taken from this reading is to step back from attempting to lead First Nations communities and instead take the opportunity to be led. This may be the most powerful, empowering, and effective way to see significant change in the strength and well-being of many First Nation communities, indeed of many communities.

    Once again, thank you for sharing your experience and highlighting the programs created to support cultural competency. I appreciate that VCH is placing so much importance on this topic.

    • Mike Nader says:

      Hi Alyson, thanks very much for joining in this discussion and making some good points. You’re absolutely right that we can’t – and aren’t – focusing solely on mental health or addiction issues with our First Nations strategies. The main reason I used that example is because it’s a recent program and one that a fair number of our staff may not know about yet.

      We’re definitely taking a much broader look at the health of First Nations
      communities and listening to what they’re saying as much as possible. In fact, shortly after we notified the United Church Health Services Society that we intended to re-assume direct responsibility for the delivery of health services in Bella Bella and Bella Coola last year, we conducted several community engagement forums with First Nations in the Central Coast area to ensure we would be able to respond to their needs appropriately.

      We’re also continuing to work closely with the First Nations Health Authority to ensure we’re coordinating our resources as effectively as possible and avoiding any duplication in all of Coastal’s operating areas.

      I appreciate you suggesting I read The Comeback. I’m always on the lookout for an inspiring book on leadership so will track that down and give it a good read.

  • Juan Gabriel Solorzano says:

    Mike,first of all I would like to give kudos to you and your team for your commitment to build stronger relationships between VCH and the Aboriginal communities in Coastal. Having witnessed cultural celebrations at Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv, I also feel honoured for the opportunity to work closely with our Aboriginal partners to improve the health and wellness of their members.

    As a new comer, I always reflect that being a citizen of this country also means
    inheriting legacy of the relationship that Canada has had with the First Peoples
    of this land. As Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Residential Schools
    Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recently release report (June 2nd),
    Canada has not done a good job of recognizing the value and importance of
    Aboriginal Culture. In fact, programs such as the residential school have
    purposely tried to eradicate cultural values in an act that has been described
    as cultural genocide. Any path forward must also include an acknowledgement of this dark past and its lasting impacts.

    I am proud to work in an organization that believes that the first step in towards a new relationship needs to be built on a foundation of trust. Nurturing our relationship needs is the first step of this journey if we want our partnership to flourish. About two months ago, our CEO, you and other members of the senior executive team from VCH attended Gathering Wisdom and hosted a breakfast attended by chiefs, councillors, health directors and community members from Nations across the region. This event was one more symbolic gesture of our commitment to a new relationship.

    I am confident that together we can build a better system that focuses on promoting wellness rather than treating illness. This is a journey that we can only travel in close partnership with FNHA, Nations in our region, Aboriginal Service providers in the City and each and every one of us here at VCH. I take this opportunity to recognize the leadership of Aboriginal communities in a more holistic perspective of health and wellness, and celebrate their rich cultural heritage that makes our community a better place for all of us.

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