National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, Orange Shirt Day: Indigenous team member & her sister provide meaning & hope
Today, we recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day.
We honour the children who never returned home and Survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities. It’s critical to raise awareness of residential schools' individual, family, and community inter-generational impacts, preserve these stories and learn from lived experiences.
We were honoured to collaborate on a special Q&A with one of our team members, Infection Prevention and Control Consultant Kerry Gartshore, and her sister, Sarah – an accomplished Indigenous artist, filmmaker, playwright, and educator. They both kindly shared their knowledge as members of the Crane clan about what is important for us to understand about Indigenous culture and history and how we can play a role as a seniors’ care organization in educating ourselves on Indigenous practices.
To help you get the most out of this article, we’ve provided an outline of what’s covered below.
- Q&A: What do you believe are five things that the Indigenous community would like for people to know and understand about their history and their culture?
- Q&A: What are some barriers to care, and how can we educate ourselves on Indigenous practices to provide the best care to our patients and residents?
- Q&A: What is trauma-informed care and why is it important to know Indigenous trauma (and history) when providing care to Indigenous Elders in our homes or theirs?
- Q&A: What are some common misconceptions you wish people knew more about?
- Q&A: What are some culturally safe practices surrounding long-term care we should be aware of?
- Q&A: What can non-Indigenous team members do to support our Indigenous team members, residents, and patients?
- A closing note from the Gartshore sisters
- Links for professional and personal understanding
- Bio for Sarah Gartshore
Q: There is so much to learn, know and understand about Indigenous history and culture. What do you believe are five things that the Indigenous community would like for people to know and understand about their history and their culture?
Aanii, boozhoo, hello. As sisters who both work in health care, we are honored to share some of the knowledge that has been shared with us around Indigenous cultural safety practices and our Indigenous culture. It is important that we acknowledge our clan, which is Crane. Ajijak Ndodemag (we are Crane Clan). As well we acknowledge that our perspectives are unique to us and that our knowledge, as Anishinaabe miiniwaa Zaganosh Kweok, has been offered to us by our mother Lois Apaquash as well as Aunties, Elders, and Knowledge Keepers in our current communities of Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.
We would like to acknowledge that when we use the term Elder, we do not mean elderly. Not every elderly Indigenous person is recognized as an Elder or wants to be. It is important that people working with elderly Indigenous people understand this distinction.
Learning about Indigenous history and culture, in a profound and meaningful way, cannot happen in a day or even over the course of a year. Once an understanding of our history begins, so too does an understanding of the part that every person in Canada has played in that history. Once an understanding of our culture and language begins, so too does an understanding of its richness and sophistication. Learning about Indigenous history and culture requires time and time is a profound way for people in this country to honor one another and the truth. Because the history of many people’s ancestors and our Indigenous ancestors is fraught with conflict, beginning our learning journeys can feel daunting. We offer that knowledge around the truth is power and will only benefit us all individually and collectively as a community and precisely as health care workers who seek to work with integrity with Indigenous patients and clients.
Because Truth is one of our Seven Sacred Laws/Seven Grandfather Teachings we would like to share this truth - beginning with the truth of who you are is where health care providers need to begin, in order to work with transparency and integrity within Indigenous communities. When working with survivors of the Indian Residential School System (IRSS), Indian Day Schools, the Sixties Scoop, and those living with intergenerational trauma, which will invariably include every Indigenous long-term care individual we encounter, we must be able to locate ourselves. Understanding what the original lands of our people are and where our own ancestors walked is the first entry point. Knowing our people’s stories, the joys, triumphs, and hardships, helps us to establish a relationship with our own truth which will help us, as healthcare workers, to establish healthy relationships with Indigenous Peoples in our care, especially Survivors.
We are going to add some links to accessible and meaningful resources for all people who are eager to understand more about the original stewards of this land. We would offer that when accessing information about Indigenous Peoples, we always ensure that the material source is an Indigenous person or group.
Q: What are some barriers to care, and how can we educate ourselves on Indigenous practices to provide the best care to our patients and residents?
We need to understand and acknowledge that Indigenous Elders and the elderly play a key role in the Indigenous community: “They are the Knowledge Keepers. They are the Language Keepers.” While there are currently over 630 First Nations communities in Canada, very few First Nations communities have their own long-term care facilities.
First Nations members who can no longer remain at home are often required to leave their communities to be placed in a facility that could be hundreds of kilometers from their homes and families. Though the majority of Indigenous Peoples today live off reserve, those who do live on reserve rarely have access to long-term care facilities in their community. First Nations members are not only leaving their homes; they are also leaving their families, their way of life and their language and cultural roots. The impact of removal from one’s community can be very traumatizing and symbolic of removals endured in childhood through the IRSS, Indian Day Schools, and/or Sixties Scoop.
Q: What is trauma-informed care and why is it important to know Indigenous trauma (and history) when providing care to Indigenous Elders in our homes or theirs?
In order to give proper care to Indigenous Elders and the elderly in our long-term care homes, we must understand what Cultural Safety is. Understanding how to provide culturally safe spaces for Survivors of IRSS, Indian Day Schools and the Sixties Scoop needs to become a tenet of the care we provide to those brave people. There are organizations, like the Indigenous Primary Health Care Council, which provide accessible and meaningful training for healthcare providers around Cultural Safety. We will add their link below.
Trauma-informed care, at its center, shifts the narrative of our perceptions. It moves us away from the question of ‘what is wrong with you’? and towards the question ‘what happened to you’? It is a powerful differentiation that has the ability to shift the way providers perceive residents and indeed the very care we provide. As healthcare providers who seek to offer a healthy, safe, and expert experience for Indigenous Elders and the elderly, understanding that our personal knowledge around trauma informed care will also extend itself to the families of residents and their experiences with loved ones in our long-term care homes as well as the broader community. Trauma-informed care that comes from an Indigenous culturally safe space honors and values Survivors of IRSS, Indian Day Schools, and the Sixties scoop, as they should be. Trauma informed care, with a culturally relevant base, is a powerful strategy that puts the focus on the institutions and agents of them, while offering us the tools to provide culturally safe care in our long-term care homes.
Q: What are some common misconceptions you wish people knew more about?
There are many misconceptions about Indigenous Peoples in Canada, as we all know. These misconceptions are a result of unconscious and/or implicit and/or overt bias. When the bias of people working with Indigenous people in long-term care homes goes unchecked it is a barrier to proper care that has the real effects of negatively affecting the care provided while continuing to marginalize and oppress elderly Indigenous people and needs to be addressed. We know that taking the time to understand which biases we hold personally will help us to change those bias’s as well as the care we provide to Survivors, that they certainly deserve while allowing us to feel confident in our abilities as professionals.
Because we are sharing for an Orange Shirt Day/Truth and Reconciliation offering we would like to remind people working with Survivors of IRSS, Indian Day Schools, and the Sixties Scoop that residential schools were not established as schools. Schools do not have graveyards. They were established as places where language, culture, worldview, values, traditions, connection to community, connection to land, and lives could be severed/stolen/taken away. The people who plotted those places of erasure knew that the youth in every community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous are the easiest target. The Indigenous Elders and elderly who we have the privilege of caring for deserve that we examine our unconscious, implicit or overt bias as well as hold our colleagues to account in this regard. Of note, there are more Indigenous children, today, in the child welfare system than there were, in any given year, during the residential school era which operated for generations and over 100 years, with the last one closing in Ontario in 1997.
Q: What are some culturally safe practices surrounding long-term care one should be aware of?
Some aspects of culturally safe care at a minimum are:
- Recognizing that the experience of dementia in Indigenous communities is gentler and there is a greater acceptance of the illness and its symptoms. It is thought to be normal, natural, and part of the ‘circle of life’ or ‘coming full circle’
- Building relationships to minimize the mistrust of the health care system
- The development of culturally safe health promotion and prevention tools that are sensitive to Indigenous populations
- Commitment to cultural competency and leadership from senior management to advocate for and support culturally safe care in their LTC homes
Q: What can non-Indigenous team members do to support our Indigenous team members, residents, and patients?
It is important for non-Indigenous long-term care homes to support Indigenous Elders and the elderly by placing value on their culture and understanding that many Elders and elderly living in our LTC homes are Survivors of IRSS, Indian Day Schools, or the Sixties Scoop and all have been directly affected by one or more of those systems and now live with intergenerational trauma.
Four ways to support Indigenous residents:
- Culturally competent training for staff so they are confident in building culturally safe spaces that include access to traditional medicines, foods, and ceremonies
- Incorporating Indigenous recreational programs and practices
- Incorporating the Indigenous community and family members to ease the transition into the long-term care home
- Investigating our own bias
A closing note from the Gartshore sisters
In closing, we offer that our own learning journey has been one of hopefulness, healing, and joy as we continue to learn so that our voices and families can do our part out of respect for Survivors of IRSS, Indian Day Schools, and the Sixties Scoop. We also share to honor the children with us today as well as the children of the future who will look back on the collective efforts we make today. Each of us will decide how much we are going to choose to learn about caring for Indigenous Elders and the elderly in our long-term care homes so that we can offer the integrity and understanding that they deserve.
Miigwetch (thank you) for taking the time to receive our words today.
Sarah Gartshore & Kerry Gartshore
Links for professional and personal understanding
- Indigenous Primary Health Care Council
- National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
- Orange Shirt Day Information
- First Nations Child and Family Caring Society
About Sarah Gartshore
Sarah Gartshore (she/her/wiin) is an Anishinaabe miiniwaa Zhaganash art creator who works in solidarity with voices from the margins as a StoryTeller and champion of radical self-love. With ancestors from Crane Clan of Batchewana First Nation and Clan Gartshore of Scotland, Gartshore is at home in leadership and in deep love with collaboration. Gartshore’s work highlights this Debwewin; the experts on the needs of the houseless community, people in active addiction community, sex working community, and other criminalized communities, are those with lived experience. Gartshore believes in the magic of safe circles as sacred space that welcomes transformation and the honouring of our Stories. She was honoured to work with her sister Kerry Gartshore for this day of Truth, Resiliency, and Hope.