Sacred space for Aboriginal healing

June 23, 2011

Teepee at Canmore General Hospital offers cultural comfort

Story and photos by Keri Lee

CANMORE — A new teepee on the grounds of Canmore General Hospital “represents so much about values, strength and healing,” says Stoney Nation elder Grace Daniels, who applauds Alberta Health Services for recognizing the needs of Aboriginals.

“It’s comforting to be in that place when you’re not well,” says Daniels, who led a blessing when the seven-metre-tall teepee rose on June 21. “Having the teepee shows the Stoney and Nakoda people that Alberta Health Services cares about their healing.”

Aboriginal patients and families at the hospital can now gather year-round in this sacred space for prayers, cultural counselling and traditional community healing rituals, such as smudging ceremonies. 
“By adding the teepee to the hospital, we are building a bridge between western and traditional medicine and giving the Aboriginal community a place to practise natural healing,” says Jordan Head, AHS Director of Aboriginal Health.

Nearly one-third of all patients who visit the Canmore hospital each year hail from the surrounding Nakoda and Stoney Nations. Yet Head says hospital visits can be uncomfortable for many Aboriginals if spiritual healing is not a recognized element of their care.

“People of all cultures look to the health care system for help and healing and it’s important we recognize that Aboriginal culture has healing practices within it, which contribute to patient well-being,” says Head.

The need for a teepee was identified by staff on the hospital’s Patient- and Family-Centred Care Committee, who believe the teepee enhances patient care and strengthens the facility’s good relationship with local Aboriginal communities.

Funding for the teepee and the raising ceremony was provided by the Canmore Ladies Auxiliary and the Canmore General Hospital, which becomes only the fourth hospital in the province to have a full-sized teepee onsite for Aboriginal patients and families.

“Treating our patients with dignity and respect when they come to the hospital to receive medical attention is always a priority,” says Head.

“Having the teepee here for Aboriginal patients shows that we understand and support their healing practices.”

The Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH) in Calgary also raised a teepee on June 21 for its Aboriginal patients and families.

The teepee was given to the hospital by elders from the Blackfoot Nation in support of the hospital being built on traditional Blackfoot land. It’s located on the west side of the hospital and will remain up throughout the summer.

Canmore teepee

Canmore teepee

Canmore teepee