Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day Eighty-Eight: All Nations Healing

In the morning students write pre-interview questions: How long have you worked at the band office? Where did you learn to speak Cree? Where does your family come from? What is your job title?

Students research contact information: internet, Sasktel 411, friends of friends. I have one of the contact's cell number. I text him to see if I can give out his cell. He texts back. Sure. They write focus statements. Lesley gives tutorials on audio and photography equipment.

After lunch, period five English geared up, Lesley and I board the bus, Cory driving. We arrive at the All Nations Healing Hospital for a tour. Michelle meets us, wearing two hats, one as our editor in the First Nations and Metis Leadership Literacy project, and one hat in her role at the All Nations Healing Hospital. She will start us on the tour, but we have strict instructions not to take pictures of any people without their consent. I even have consent forms in my backpack, just in case. This is a photo scouting trip, a technology trial, a capacity expanding opportunity.

As we sit in a sunken waiting area, a fireplace in the centre, we learn how the four elements -- fire, earth, water and air -- have been incorporated into the hospital. How a bird's eye-view shows a medical cross and the circle. We tour the circle clockwise, a traditional direction, Michelle explains. I have brought students here before, but never armed with cameras and audio recorders. I'm a nervous hen, clucking at her chicks, trying to keep them close and focused.

We pass offices of dietitians, counsellors, health program directors, physiotherapists, and many others who are off in communities, being accessible. We circle back into the main area and talk with the cafeteria staff, snap pictures of a waterfall and the flowing water tile. I especially love the timber poles throughout the building.

Next we tour the state-of-the-art hospital, through emergency, and long hospital hallways with bright, spacious rooms, full of equipment. Our new tour guide even straps one of our students into a lift chair, just to show him how it's done. We check out the Women's Health Centre from the doorway and get to go right into the x-ray room.

We end the tour back on the other half of the hospital at the White Raven Healing Centre. Wendal Starr explains that we are allowed to take pictures throughout because no ceremonies are currently taking place. He explains the unique attributes of the hospital: elements, design, materials, philosophies. We circle from room to room, office to office, ending up at the ceremony room. The students walk into the circular room, touch the furs on the floor, respectfully listen. Then we go across to the medicine room, a collection of plants, ground and whole. We're offered Horse tea in little medicinal cups. We listen to the benefits of horse tea.

I'm walking home and I'm visualizing the plants in the medicine room. Wendal had explained that upwards of 80% of modern medicine has roots in First Nations medicine.

My own Grandpa Cecil told a story about when he was a little boy, living in Thesslon, next to an Ojibway reserve, now Thessalon First Nation, I believe. He had ringworm and the doctors were able to cure him, except not the infection in his eye and his bottom.

Frank Bamagezik, an elder, asked my Great Grandfather, why he wasn't treating the boy. The doctors can't do anything, said my Great Grandfather. Bamagezik went home and returned with a poultice in a big tin. He applied it to my Grandfather and wrapped him up.

In three days, when Bamagezik returned, taking off the wrapping, Grandpa was healed.

My Great Grandfather asked Bamagezik, "Why don't you share this with the doctors, they didn't know how to cure it."

My Grandfather would often tear up when he quoted Bamagezik, "Tom, they've taken our land and our livelihood; they're not going to take our medicine, too."

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