Giigewigamig Traditional Healing Centre Opens its Doors

Giigewigamig Health
Giigewigamig Health

Pine Falls/Sagkeeng Traditional Territory – On May 8, marking eleven years since a vision of a healing centre was received through a First Nation ceremony, the grand opening for the new Giigewigamig Traditional Healing Centre will take place on site at the Pine Falls Health Complex.

Giigewigamig (pronounced Kee-gay-ga-mik) means “place of healing” in the Anishinabe (Ojibway) language.  The centre, named a year ago by Black River First Nation Elder, Ernest McPherson, is intended to reflect the identity and healing traditions of the First Peoples of the area.

Four First Nation communities surrounding the Pine Falls Hospital (Sagkeeng, Black River, Hollow Water and Bloodvein) have united as the Giigewigamig First Nation Health Authority to manage the centre.  Following protocols of the Anishinabe Nation, the chief and councils of each community have recognized the leadership of their Elders to oversee the centre, which received the go-ahead for construction after years of discussions with the communities, regional health authority and province.

“As leaders, we position [designated] Elders from our four communities to have full control and a shared responsibility in managing the centre to provide the best possible care and top quality support for the people.  As the First Nations, we look forward to taking the lead in managing all aspects of the traditional healing centre,” said Chief Derrick Henderson of Sagkeeng on behalf of all the chiefs.

Giigewigamig Traditional Healing Centre will include indoor and outdoor spaces for traditional First Nation healing ceremonies, teachings and approaches to palliative care; sacred fire and smudging areas, a kitchen facility where families can prepare traditional foods and medicines for their loved ones in hospital, and overnight facilities for families supporting in-patients.  Giigewigamig will also be place of education on First Nation history, culture and healing.

“We can’t keep leaving our identity at the door,” said Elder William Young from Bloodvein First Nation. “Following the spirit of our ancestors, as expressed by our leadership as the First Peoples of Turtle Island, there has to be a reflection of who we are inside the health facilities.”

Elder Burma Bushie from Hollow Water First Nation emphasized the role that the Elders and traditional healers will play at Giigewigamig.  “The most important role we have is to bring spirit into the hospital,” she said, after explaining that when she has visited a hospital or doctor’s office in the past, not once have they addressed her spiritual health, something she felt was really missing.

Elder McPherson stated, “We were given everything we need to have a good life by the Creator.  The land will provide.”  He added, “The most important part of our medicines is the spirit.  It’s that prayer to the Creator.”

Elder Dave Courchene, leader of the Turtle Lodge in Sagkeeng First Nation, asserted that Giigewigamig will be a place representative of nationhood for First Nations people.  He said, “We are a sovereign people, as reflected by the Treaties signed by our forefathers.”

Elder Courchene also expressed enthusiasm at working in partnership with the federal and provincial governments, as well as the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority (IERHA), which currently manages the Pine Falls Hospital and Primary Care Centre.  “We have always been willing to engage in a true partnership of co-existence, based on the spirit of reciprocity,” he said.

“We offer an opportunity to engage in a relationship of true respect.  The relationship of partnership simply means a recognition of each other’s autonomy and an equal and unconditional sharing of resources for health.  Our vision is that this will be a relationship of sharing, respect and responsibility in supporting the health and wellness of all nations that we serve,” he added.

“The independently managed centre is the first of its kind in Manitoba and unites traditional Aboriginal healing practices with Western medicine in a space that reflects the needs of the community.  It is a place where people of different cultures can learn from each other and heal as part of positive change,” said Ron Van Denakker, CEO for the IERHA.

“I am very proud and humbled to be part of this meaningful partnership that is about establishing healthy relationships, creating opportunities to give maximum support to the well-being of our communities, and a real chance at doing things differently.  This profound change will continue to be revitalized by trust and respect for each other’s processes in delivering care for years to come,” Van Denakker added.

“The key is to keep doing things from the heart, based on the kindness we have as a people, said Kookum (Grandmother) Aldeen Mason, also from Sagkeeng.

Following the private ceremony and ribbon cutting for 100 invited community Elders and dignitaries at the new Giigewigamig Centre, there will be a community celebration and feast, with speakers and local entertainment, taking place May 8 at 1:30 pm at the Sagkeeng Arena Multiplex.  All are welcome.

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