Indigenous healing space opens at London Health Sciences Centre

The space's lobby features a mural titled "Ka-Bzindaadmin," which was created by Tsista Kennedy, an 18-year-old, self-taught Indigenous artist from Beausoleil First Nation and Oneida Nation of the Thames. London Health Sciences Centre

London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) has announced a new addition to Victoria Hospital that aims to address health inequities faced by Indigenous patients and families in London, Ont., and surrounding area.

The Indigenous healing space was created in partnership with Atlohsa Family Healing Services, a local non-profit that provides Indigenous-led programming and services that offer holistic healing, education, shelter and support.

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The new space comes as a direct response to two calls for action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Those specific calls to action seek healing centres “to address the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual harms caused by residential schools,” and ask those within the 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.”

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The ceremonial area of the new Indigenous healing space at LSHC’s Victoria Hospital. London Health Sciences Centre

“We know that on a medical basis, that health outcomes for Indigenous peoples are way worse than they are for almost any other community,” said Dr. Paul Woods, the president and CEO of LHSC.

Woods told Global News the idea for the new space began with the hiring of a director for health equity at the medical network.

“One of the very first things that I charged him with was to start to explore this path about how we could do a much better job of providing culturally safe healthcare for Indigenous folks (and) to provide a place where traditional or Indigenous medicine can be practiced,” said Woods.

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Raymond Deleary is the executive director for Atlohsa and says the new addition to Victoria Hospital provides an important reclamation of space.

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“In this situation, it’s some space inside of a place where traditionally we were not present,” Deleary said.

“We’ve been displaced from our land and our territory for so much time, so this is really a pillar to reconciliation and it helps to begin the conversation and take steps towards it.”

Deleary believes the new space will provide a better quality of care and service for Indigenous folks staying or visiting LHSC. That includes accommodating various aspects of Indigenous culture that are often ignored by most institutions.

“For instance, we’re very family-oriented people… we come together often in large groups and we use our cultural medicines, and food is an essential part of that, and within this space, we’ll be able to do that to some extent,” Deleary said.

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Deleary described LHSC as being very open and accommodating throughout the design process of the healing space, something he described as essential in constructing initiatives through the lens of reconciliation.

“It was really enlightening and refreshing to work with Dr. Woods and LHSC on being able to voice what some of those requirements were and be able to provide that understanding and then (to have) that move into action because they took the time to listen and understand,” Deleary said.

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The healing space is still in the process of becoming fully operational. Woods told Global News that LHSC’s supply chain was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but says the work is close to being complete.

Once the healing space is up and running, care will be administered through Atlohsa and an on-site Indigenous healing services advisor at LHSC.

“What we look forward to in the future is that many of our partners in the Indigenous-serving community will also have access to the space, so that participants, regardless of the agency that they’re working with or the organization, that they’ll have a pathway to accessing that space,” Deleary said.

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