Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre Respecting Traditional Healers
THUNDER BAY – Teresa Trudeau says she was born interested and inquisitive about traditional First Nations culture. Originally from Wikwemikong, on the eastern end of Manitoulin Island, Trudeau was able to learn a great deal from her immediate family, particularly her mother and grandmother. “I asked a lot of questions,” says Trudeau. “Sometimes the answer to why something is done was, ‘That’s just how we do it.’”
[sws_pullquote_right]“We come from varied backgrounds, places and ages. It’s a blending and meeting of all different directions.” [/sws_pullquote_right] Today, she is the Traditional Healing Coordinator at Thunder Bay’s Anishnawbe Mushkiki, an Aboriginal Community Health Access Centre that serves approximately 8,000 Aboriginal individuals and families in 32 communities throughout the District of Thunder Bay. The centre provides programs that combine traditional healing practices and western medicine, including a nurse practitioner-led clinic, counselling, crisis intervention, healing lodges, health promotion, diabetes screening and education and pre- and post-natal care.
In her role, Trudeau coordinates traditional healing programs and services involving healers and elders for the centre’s clients. “People seek out a traditional healer or ceremony for any kind of health issue,” says Trudeau. “Healers are recognized and respected in the First Nations community for their abilities and the work they do. Their credibility comes from the community. Most healers are very humble and private about what they do.”
Trudeau also facilitates cultural education both at the centre and throughout the community, including Confederation College and Lakehead University, as well as elementary and secondary schools.
Five years ago, Trudeau joined the Aboriginal Advisory Committee at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC), bringing her knowledge and background in traditional culture and healing to help improve the experience of First Nations patients and families. This year saw the Committee grow from 12 to 25 members. “We have a very good team,” says Trudeau. “We come from varied backgrounds, places and ages. It’s a blending and meeting of all different directions.”
Carmen Blais, Aboriginal Engagement Lead and Patient Advocate at TBRHSC, says Trudeau’s contributions to the Committee have been tremendous. “Teresa’s knowledge of traditional healing and medicine and her commitment to Aboriginal health make her integral to the work of the Aboriginal Advisory Committee,” says Blais.
Trudeau’s main involvement is in the area of cultural awareness and sensitivity. She is also involved in sub-committees looking into making traditional food available in the hospital and creating a Healing Garden containing the four sacred medicines: sage, cedar, tobacco and sweetgrass. “Providing a place for a person to practice their spirituality is important,” she says.
Several changes have already come about as the result of recommendations from the Committee, such as the hiring of an Aboriginal Engagement Lead and Patient Advocate as well as three Aboriginal Patient Navigators. “I believe we’re creating the stepping stones,” says Trudeau.
The Committee was also instrumental in changes to hospital policy regarding women who give birth and request the placenta for cultural burial.
“We need to find ways to accommodate First Nations patients who want to practice in the way our ancestors had done, in the ways that we know and understand, like acknowledging and giving thanks for new life,” says Trudeau. “There may be an increase in demand for traditional practices because more people are learning about them.”
The overarching objective of TBRHSC’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee is to help implement the activities set out under Aboriginal Health in the Strategic Plan 2015, primarily looking at how best to create a welcoming environment for First Nations patients and families.