Opening the door for Indigenous education

By Jane Cocking

Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) has created a safe, welcoming place for staff and visitors to share conversations about Indigenous history with the installation of a Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Legacy Space.

RVH is the first public healthcare centre in Canada to install this Legacy Space. The project was initiated by Dr. Matt Follwell, radiation oncologist and Chief of Oncology at RVH’s Simcoe Muskoka Regional Cancer Program. Dr. Follwell rallied his colleagues to fund the installation to support reflection and education on Indigenous issues, particularly with the discovery of mass residential school graves.

“Hopefully, it’s acting more as a welcoming symbol, something that can put people at ease that we’ve acknowledged these things happened and there are historical traumas that are essentially still being lived out in our communities,” says Dr. Follwell. “This is just the beginning. We still have a long way to go.”

Since 2019, RVH has worked with the Downie-Wenjack Fund (DWF) and the North Simcoe Muskoka Indigenous Health Circle to become a DWF Legacy Space partner. The display cabinet, currently in the health centre’s main lobby, is mobile to allow it to be moved to different areas of the building.

“The Legacy Spaces program exists because there is a need for safe, welcoming places where conversations and education about Indigenous history – and our collective journey towards reconciliation – are encouraged and supported, “ says Kayleigh Jordan-McGregor, Development Associate, The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. ​”They also serve as symbols and reminders of the important work each of us needs to undertake, particularly employers, in responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. It’s an important step that all organizations can take to ensure that Indigenous perspectives are represented and celebrated in their workplace.”

The installation at RVH was formally recognized during a ceremony in late October to coincide with the Secret Path Week, a national movement commemorating the legacies of Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack. This is a meaningful week as October 17th and 22nd respectively mark the dates that Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack joined the spirit world.

“Together with the Indigenous Health Circle and Indigenous community partners, RVH has been working to provide culturally safe care to Indigenous patients and their families.  As a member of TEAM RVH, I am proud of RVH’s Smudging Policy, which allows myself and Traditional Healers to perform Ceremony with patients and their families,” says Roberta Manitowabi, Indigenous Patient Navigator in the SMRCP.  “The launch of RVH’s DWF Legacy Space is another important step toward Truth and Reconciliation, providing space and opportunity for reflection and Indigenous cultural safety education for Team RVH”.

Jane Cocking is the Manager of Corporate Communications, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) in Barrie, Ontario.