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Indigenous team leads healing space at HSC Children’s Hospital

Project launches with goal to support Indigenous kids and families from across Manitoba when in hospital

Indigenous leaders from across Manitoba today are celebrating the launch of a new project at HSC Winnipeg Children’s Hospital to build an Indigenous Community Healing Space for kids and their families while in hospital for care. The project is led by Dr. Melanie Morris, Canada’s first and only Indigenous pediatric surgeon, who was appointed as the first lead of Indigenous Health at HSC Children’s in 2019.

“Our medical service needs to create space for Indigenous ways of healing, including the many practices that support health and well-being found among Indigenous peoples,” says Dr. Morris, pediatric surgeon; physician lead, Indigenous Health, HSC Children’s and Department of Pediatrics & Child Health, Max Rady College of Medicine, University of Manitoba.

The Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba is raising funds for the project, which is very important as approximately 50 per cent of kids treated at HSC Children’s are Indigenous, including many from remote and Northern communities.

“The hospital and foundation teams recognize that there are few visible signs of Indigenous lands, cultural beliefs or worldview within the hospital itself,” says Stefano Grande, president and CEO, Children’s Hospital Foundation. “We are deeply thankful to have had counsel from our Indigenous Advisory Circle on the impacts of how safe Indigenous children and their families feel when receiving care. We are so pleased to work closely with Dr. Morris as she leads this project forward for the kids in hospital.”

In Manitoba, Indigenous children are three to five times more likely to be affected by several diseases/conditions. The incidence and prevalence of diseases such as diabetes, circulatory (heart) and respiratory diseases (Pediatric TB), and some cancers are increasing in Indigenous children to a greater extent than non-Indigenous children. These diseases require long-term care with specialist teams, which often means visiting the hospital for years.

HSC Children’s has committed 2,000-sq-ft of space in for the Indigenous Community Healing Space. This space is designed to be a place where children and families feel safe, connect with each other, and nurture their whole self – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – while away from their home community and cultural supports.

The new Indigenous Community Healing Space will feature:

  • Design elements that reflect Indigenous culture, spirituality and worldview
  • Space for traditional Indigenous ceremonies, including smudging
  • Place for Indigenous Elders, healers and Knowledge Keepers to support families in care
  • Library space for Indigenous children’s books
  • Comfortable breastfeeding corner for Indigenous mothers
  • The project is led and imagined by Indigenous women in the hospital’s journey towards the serious commitment of realizing reconciliation.
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“The collaborative work being done by Dr. Morris with communities across Manitoba, and with support from the hospital, the Foundation, the Indigenous Advisory Circle, and the Department of Pediatrics &

Child Health, is a crucial step towards reconciliation in health care, within the hospital and with learners at the University of Manitoba,” says Dr. Patricia Birk, provincial specialty lead, Child Health, Shared Health; and department head, Pediatrics & Child Health, Max Rady College of Medicine, University of Manitoba.

Recognizing the value of Indigenous healing practices and making them available for Indigenous patients where requested was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action 22:

We call upon those who can effect change within the Canadian health-care system to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients in collaboration with Aboriginal healers and Elders where requested by Aboriginal patients. (TRC Action item 22)

Consultation with Elders, community organizations and families is further guiding culturally sensitive plans for the Healing Space. Elders and grandmothers Margaret Lavallee, Levinia Brown, Sherry Copenace, Leslie Spillet, and Jack Robinson; the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat; Ongomiizwin Health Services; and children and families from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities are all consulting on the project.

"It is so important to have our Elders and women leading and central in the consultation of this project, which will ensure children, healing, health and wellness are the central focus,” said Rebecca Chartrand, chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council to the Foundation. “I am also so pleased to see the business community stepping up in their efforts to support this very important project.”

Generous funding of $225,000 to get the project underway has been provided by The Winnipeg Foundation, CIBC, and Wawanesa.

Additional funds are still needed to be raised to complete construction and furnishings, and for ongoing programming and resources.

“Together, we can support the needs of Indigenous families, and lead with a focus on reconciliation for the past and improved care for Indigenous children into the future. I encourage business leaders in Manitoba to step up to continue support for this project and further projects in healthcare that support Indigenous children and their communities,” says Zoe Richardson, Chair of Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Donations to the ongoing development of the Indigenous Community Healing Space can be made at Goodbear.ca/IndigenousHealth or call the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba at (431) 338-1972.