What Indigenous wellness looks like at the new hospital in Yellowknife, Northern Canada

A view of the sloped exterior wall and ceiling space inside the new Stanton hospital’s ‘sacred space.’ It is ventilated to allow for smudging ceremonies. (Walter Strong/CBC)
The Northwest Territories’ new Stanton Territorial Hospital, in Canada’s central Arctic, opened its doors Sunday morning.

The-state-of-the-art facility boasts high-tech operating rooms, double the clinical space, and floor-to-ceiling windows in many parts of the building.

The government also says the $350-million facility will provide a better experience for Indigenous patients. Here are some of the highlights:

Staff dedicated to Indigenous wellness

Stanton’s Indigenous wellness program will expand at the new hospital with a full-time resident elder on staff and four new full-time Indigenous patient liaisons working throughout the hospital.

One of the liaison staff will be based at the hospital’s main entrance, and will work with the staff elder to help patients access the wellness program.

There will be culturally-relevant programming hospital-wide, with specific programming for extended care, maternal health and pediatrics.

The new Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife will be open May 26. (Walter Strong/CBC)
Traditional foods

Traditional foods will be prepared in the hospital’s main kitchen by kitchen staff and staff from Stanton’s Indigenous wellness program.

The menu hasn’t been finalized yet, and what’s available could vary because the program depends on donated food, but it’s expected that bone broths, soups, fish and caribou will be options.

The hospital will also have flash freezer facilities to preserve batches of seasonably available food as it comes in and help maintain as steady a supply as possible.

The territory has developed a handling guideline to meet food safety regulations, while also respecting traditional ways of harvesting and preparing food.

A look at the new hospital kitchen, where traditional foods will also be prepped. (Walter Strong/CBC)
No Indigenous wellness centre… yet

N.W.T. Health Minister Glen Abernethy says there’s no money in the capital budget for an Indigenous wellness centre. However, he says he’s committed to a stand-alone space on the property so the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation can build one.

Nicole Redvers, a naturopathic doctor who is the chair of the foundation’s board, says they’re still in negotiations for the land lease with the government of the Northwest Territories.

She says it would be a place where people could practise their culture, cook traditional foods and access traditional medicine and counselling.

Redvers says the foundation is still looking for funding to build the centre, but is moving ahead with planning. They have a third round of consultations scheduled with elders this June.

“We had a wonderful architect from the South who has volunteered to help us, in addition to an architect here locally who has been really helpful in helping to put down costs and get us drawings and developing sort of what we hope … is the picture of the wellness centre.”

There is a special ventilation system to allow for smudging in the sacred space. (Walter Strong/CBC)
There’s a sacred space

Also known as the meditation room, the sacred space looks a bit like a glass teepee with sloped walls, lots of windows, and a special ventilation system to allow for smudging.

It will be the only area of the hospital used for smudging, and the Stanton Territorial Hospital Authority is working on a policy for use of the space.

There will also be a Dene drum available for ceremonies.

A look at an unfurnished patient room at the new Stanton hospital during a public tour in April. The health minister says the new hospital’s rooms are bigger to accommodate families. (Walter Strong/CBC)
Hospital rooms better accommodate family

Minister Abernethy says the rooms at the new Stanton hospital are larger, and many have sleeping couches to accommodate family members staying overnight.

“It’s clear if you talk to many people who are coming in to this hospital from some of our smaller communities, they often come with large numbers of family, because family is healing, family is support,” he told CBC.

Showcasing Indigenous art

A lot of the existing artwork from the old Stanton hospital will have a home at the new hospital, but the territory has also commissioned new artwork, featuring Indigenous cultures of the territory.

All will be revealed at the hospital’s official opening celebration later this summer, at a date yet to be announced.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit class-action lawsuit to allege racism in Canada’s health-care system, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s elder care needs funding boost to meet Nordic standards: researcher, Yle News

Sweden: Fewer people suffering strokes in Sweden, Radio Sweden

Joanne Stassen, CBC News

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