Health conference speaker says mental, physical, spiritual and emotional care all important

The Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) Family Community Wellness Centre hosted its second-annual public health conference on Feb. 26-27 at the Thompson Regional Community Centre.

The Rev. Agnes Spence, a regional minister with NCN and an addiction specialist with the Nelson House Medicine Lodge, gave a speech in the TRCC to approximately 100 conference participants about dealing with drugs and alcohol from a First Nations spirituality perspective. Spence, who also ministers to the victims and families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), also had a few words about the quality of life for Indigenous people in Canada.

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“I think it’s about time that people listen, because, you know about the North, with its boil water advisories and lack of housing,” she explained. “Our people remain completely poor, while the rest of society excels. There should be a little bit of sharing, at least.”

Spence said that First Nation service providers need to learn about helping people from a spiritual perspective.

“All aspects of the medicine wheel,” she said. “Mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. Because there is so much work to be done in each and everyone’s life. It’s been left out because of the way we are living right now. We are not as mobile as we should be. We are not prayerful. We need more healing in all aspects of the wheel. More prayers. More teaching. More physical activities and caring for our emotions.”

Registered nurse Lynda Wright, a public health nurse and director of health for NCN, as well as one of the conference co-ordinators, said the role of a public health nurse is complex.

“The life of a [First Nation] public health nurse is rewarding,” she said, noting the job can also be very demanding. “You’re not only in charge of the client, but you’re in charge of the population, making sure the wellness of the community is a priority in prevention, intervention and emotion … creating that awareness on many levels.”

Wright said there are several areas where harm reduction healthcare models can be implemented in First Nations. 

“Some of the issues with First Nations are a lack of funding, lack of staffing, lack of nurses and lack of housing,” she explained. “On First Nations, we have a lot of issues related to diseases and infections. There’s a lack of housing. We have many families that are living in a three-bedroom house … maybe three, four or five families in one house with one washroom facility. It’s a [breeding] ground for more infection. Our homes are not built properly. There are issues with mould in the homes, which can cause respiratory issues and complications. When you don’t have the proper washroom facilities and running water [it’s a problem].”

Wright explained that collaboration among northern human services providers is crucial for implementing healthcare improvements in First Nations communities.

“We really need to form those partnerships,” she said. “That helped form the vision for a harm reduction conference in the North. We invited all 31 First Nations communities, so we can gather together and form those networks and start working with our provincial, and federal side …bringing our communities together. That’s what we talked about in the keynote presentation this morning … hearing the presentations and equipping our frontline workers, so they can take home the knowledge and use it to enhance their programs and strive for excellence in health.”

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