George Couchie, (middle) Cultural Mindfulness Workshop facilitator with Cindy Honeyborne, Communications, Quality and Patient Safety Leader and on the right Gary Sims, President and Chief Executive Officer, Kirkland and Englehart Hospitals. Photo by Xavier Kataquapit
By Xavier Kataquapit
Kirkland and Englehart district hospitals in Ontario hosted a series of Cultural Mindfulness Workshops for frontline health care staff to inform them about Indigenous history and issues affecting First Nation communities.
George Couchie, a recognized workshop facilitator with more than 20 years of experience in teaching First Nations culture, issues and awareness training, led three workshops which took place on Sept. 11 and Sept. 13 at Kirkland and on Sept. 12 at the Englehart. In total more than 90 front line health care workers from various disciplines and departments took part.
“My main message to everyone was that all of us in life has a story. I wanted to share our Indigenous story and our history and how our people got to this point in time. I wanted others to see beyond what is in front of them and to understand that there is generations of pain. This type of knowledge sharing and education is a good step towards understanding,” said Couchie.
He is an Anishinabe person from Nipissing First Nation near North Bay who owns and operates Redtail Hawk Training and Consulting. Couchie has more than 30 years of policing experience and he is a recognized presenter and educator on Indigenous awareness programs and workshops throughout Ontario.
Over the past three decades, he has provided educational events on Indigenous issues for law enforcement, health services and government organizations. He has also been involved in projects and events designed for Aboriginal youth.
Gary Sims, president and Chief Executive Officer, for the hospitals, explained that they have been engaging the Native community over the past year and had sought guidance on how best to serve and assist the Indigenous community.
“We have a large Indigenous population that we work with and it is important for us to reach out and help them as much as possible. One of the ways for us to do this is to learn about Indigenous history and develop more of an understanding so that we can build a stronger relationship,” said Sims. An Indigenous Advisory Council was established in order to guide the hospitals on how to better serve the First Nation population.
The workshops provided by Couchie were funded by the hospitals and organized by Cindy Honeyborne, Communications, Quality and Patient Safety Leader. Executive leadership was provided by Sims.
“I enjoyed having the opportunity to see a new perspective that I never really saw before,” said Justin McLean, a Lab Technician. “Like many people, I never really had the chance to learn about Indigenous history from my schooling so it was informative for me. We learned a lot today.”
The workshops are provided as an introduction to Indigenous history, culture and modern issues affecting the First Nation community. Couchie shared teachings on ceremonies, the significance of traditional spiritual practices and discussed First Nation Canadian history, including issues of assimilation, racism and the residential school system. He also led participants in group activities that included the hand drum, the hand rattle and singing.
“I appreciated learning about the culture, the different items that are used in ceremonies and it felt good to sing with everyone,” said Nadia Parent, a Medical Radiation Technologist. “It was a bit overwhelming to learn about what happened to people and how it has affected their families today. Overall, it was a good learning experience and I was happy to be here.”
Chester Jobson, Board Chair for the Englehart and District Hospital, who is also a member of Matachewan First Nation, played a supportive role in developing a stronger relationship between the two hospitals and the Indigenous community.
“This is the start of building a stronger relationship with the Indigenous community. Workshops such as this are important. Sharing the history and the major issues that continue to affect the lives of First Nation people will do a lot to bridging the gaps we all have in our understanding of one another,” said Jobson.
The organizing group is hopeful that there will be ongoing cultural sensitivity programming in the future.