SASKATOON — The Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) raised a Reconciliation Flag at St. Paul’s Hospital Oct. 14 in Saskatoon. SHR president and CEO Dan Florizone thanked all who had suffered from the residential schools for being present and leading the way.
“We owe you a debt of gratitude for being here,” he noted. “We’ve made some strides, but today, when we reflect back, we have not, as a health system, done the best we can to serve First Nations and Métis people.”
Florizone added that the health region wanted to make progress and commit to actions, not just words. “I know we can do better, we’ve come far but the journey before us is going to be a long one.”
Community partners Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) and Central Urban Métis Federation (CUMFI) sent greetings through STC Chief Felix Thomas and CUMFI president Shirley Isbister.
“Treaties are between partners,” noted Thomas. “Reconciliation is not a one-way thing. There are two parties in reconciliation, as there were two parties in the treaties, and the common misconception is that First Nations are the only ones with treaty rights.”
He pointed out that everyone benefits from the treaties. The First Nations have fulfilled their half of the treaty but have not seen promised benefits and reciprocity, he said, so reconciliation events and public acknowledgement serve all communities with dignity and quality of life.
He described the process as involving uncomfortable talks that have to happen, crediting Neal and Gilbert Kewistep with leading the way with this particular venture with the City of Saskatoon and the Health Region. In this way reconciliation and treaty rights are brought about for both sides.
“For me it’s a commitment to this community that we will move forward — we won’t get anywhere if we don’t continue to partner,” noted Isbister. “There are over 35 groups attending our reconciliation meetings, and I know that’s going to continue to grow.”
St. Paul’s Hospital CEO Jean Morrison noted it was especially fitting that the flag go up during St. Paul’s mission week, and thanked the health region and the Government of Saskatchewan for continuing to partner with faith communities to deliver services.
“The flag matters to everyone here, and should matter to everyone in this community. St. Paul’s acknowledges the suffering and pain brought by the residential school system and colonialism,” said Morrison, acknowledging that the hospital has stood for nearly 110 years on Treaty 6 land and the homeland of the Métis people.
Morrison noted that because St. Paul’s is located in the core and serving many northern patients, the hospital strives to be especially sensitive to the needs of the First Nations and Métis communities, serving a large proportion of Aboriginal patients. St. Paul’s has worked to build a spiritual care program, including a spiritual care room and smudging policy, guided by elders and spiritual/cultural care workers, she said, emphasizing the importance of holistic care that includes traditional medicine and practices.
“With the flag-raising ceremony, St. Paul’s confirms our commmitment to provide equitable and compassionate health care, responding with love and compassion to all who enter our doors,” said Morrison, adding that traditional practices are welcomed into the hospital.
Other speakers noted the connection between the trauma of residential schools and overall health. SHR employee Sharon Clarke spoke about the effects on herself, her family, and the communities.
“Children were taken without consent, and parents were arrested for trying to get their children back. The RCMP often accompanied the agents who took the children. Imagine if you were the parents, powerless to do anything. What happens to communities without children? What happens to you when you know if you have another child, that child will also be taken?” asked Clarke, adding that children were then targeted to “remove the Indian from the child” in cruel ways. “At best we were not whipped, not starved, not sexually or verbally abused. At worst we were abused, taught to hate ourselves and our people, taught fear and anger, and worst of all, learned to do what was done to us to others.”
She added that even with conditioned silencing and repression and addictions this pain still comes out in negative health outcomes. Many times institutions can replicate conditions, with even a medical exam becoming a trigger to survivors, while many survivors die young, an immense loss of potential which needs to be addressed. But she said that survivors can not only access the sadness of the experience, but the strength, and build from that place of strengths.
“I’m not just a survivor, but something stronger. Am I healed? No, I still struggle, but I work hard to live a life I can be proud of,” noted Clarke, adding that to honour survivors, change is necessary. “To start, we can utilize the TRC Calls to Action as a framework to move forward. We can create an Aboriginal model of care that includes attention to nutrition, elder services, language, and addressing gaps in care. We can provide cultural competency education to staff that meets their needs, too.” Clarke added that a representational work force would also help.
Neal Kewistep commended the survivors who started the conversation by speaking their truth, and their courage in coming forward. He spoke with pride of his father, Gilbert, who was forthcoming with his own stories of residential school mistreatment so that by the time Neal went to Lebret, he ran away after a week and never went back.
Kewistep credited his father for working to right the wrongs of the past. “He had to experience a trial by fire on many fronts. I was the first child he had the primary responsibility of raising. It was actually pretty awesome because we learned together. Failure meant an opportunity to learn. We can’t be afraid to make mistakes, they’re going to help us innovate and make our community a better and safer place for everybody,” noted Kewistep. “Unfortunately we continue to experience the gross over-representation of our people in all the categories that nobody wants to find ourselves in. But it’s important to honour our allies on this journey to reconciliation.”
Kewistep noted that TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson shared that not everyone might see themselves in the TRC Calls to Action, but that doesn’t absolve all citizens of Canada from their individual roles in making reconciliation happen in Canada. “So I challenge everybody to find their own personal Call to Action.”
He added that reconciliation cannot be delegated, it must be undertaken by everyone.
“The flag is a daily reminder that we’re working on reconciliation together.”