A local First Nations elder welcomes the renaming of a regional hospital, but also calls for additional measures to recognize Aboriginal culture in the health care system.
“This is a start, but we need to do something more important, and that is to take a look at how we can get people, who work in the hospital to understand not only our language but also our culture,” said Tom Sampson, an elder and former chief of the Tsartlip First Nation. “It’s not just about medicine,” he said later. “It’s being able to go there and help those who are not feeling well, talk to them, encourage them.”
He made these comments after the unveiling of a new sign that gives the Saanich Peninsula Hospital the Indigenous name of LAU,WELNEW,AUTW, as chosen by the WSANEC people and approved by the chiefs of the four local First Nations and language experts. Written in the SENCOTEN language of the Coast Salish people, the name translates to ‘a place of healing’ and pays tribute to nearby Mount Newton.
Sampson, who helped to spearhead the renaming with Jane Fox, Aboriginal liaison nurse, said First Nations had previously referred to the hospital as ‘a place where sick people are in,’ an unwelcoming phrase.
“We didn’t like it, because it doesn’t fit in with the teaching of our long houses,” said Sampson.
“A lot of our people come here to this hospital, and we were trying to encourage them to start using our language for healing because we know why we come here when we are not feeling very well. So we have been asking the hospitals to try using a different way of describing what a hospital is in our language and that is when we came up with that word LAU,WELNEW,AUTW.”
Alana Nest, a member of the Island Health board of directors, said in her remarks that the name reminds of the linkage between wellness and culture.
“Supporting the rejuvenation of the language is an important step in reconciliation,” she said. “We know more work needs to be done, but this is an important first step in listening and understanding what is important to the people of the WSANEC communities.”
The re-naming of the hospital has been part and parcel of a larger process of recognizing Indigenous elements and traditions in local health care, a point physically manifested by the sign’s location near four 15-foot totem poles created by carvers from each of the four nations in the area — the Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum and Pauquachin. Their names also appear on the sign.
Tuesday’s unveiling ceremony started just after 1 p.m. in front of an audience of some 50 people consisting of local First Nations, hospital patients, staff and representatives from Island Health.
Led by Al Sam, the unveiling ceremony featured songs from a Tsartlip First Nation drum group and a blessing ceremony featuring Annie Smith of Tsartlip, Barb Henry of Pauquachin and Patti Underwood of Tsawout.
Tsartlip Chief Don Tom said the sign marks progress. “With this, our families will always be welcome here and to seek healing here,” he said. “It pleases myself and it pleases our Elders to see our traditional language being in our territory. It’s not only good to hear, but also good to see.”
Tsawout Chief Nick Claxton emphasized the strong historical and cultural bonds between the four nations and the surrounding land referenced in the name.
“The land is healing, the language is healing, so I am really happy that it is being brought forward and used to acknowledge that this is an important place too for our people,” he said.
Local MLA Adam Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, referenced his own personal history during his remarks.
“This is the place where my niece was born, one of the last kids to be born here in this facility,” he said. “It is the place that we bring our family members when they need help for their health, and it is the place that three of my grandparents have come and spent the last days of their lives.”
Olsen said it is important to see SENCOTEN words re-attach to local places as First Nations and non-First Nations work towards building and re-building relationships.
“I think this is a tribute to all the people that have come together to ensure that no matter how many steps we have taken back, that we are still plodding forward in our efforts to reconcile and to be better neighbours and to be friends and to have relationships,” he said.
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