A teacher, a counsellor, a listener, an advocate, a mentor, a knowledge-keeper. These are just some of the roles Gerry Oleman has played over his decade of service with PHSA. As part of the
Indigenous Health team, Gerry, a member of the St’at’imc Nation from Tsal’alh (Shalalth B.C.), has been instrumental in supporting the
San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Learning Programs, the
Indigenous Youth Wellness team, as well as supporting BC Women’s Hospital as an Elder.
“I feel fortunate being part of Elder Gerry’s learning circle. His wisdom, guidance and teachings have had a tremendous impact on both Indigenous Health and the entire PHSA organization. I’m grateful to be in Elder Gerry’s canoe,” says Brad Anderson, Interim Executive Director for Indigenous Health.
When asked how he would describe his role as an Elder, Gerry says “he is there to provide what is missing,” when caring for Indigenous patients and their families. “Many people do not realize that there is a distinct culture for Indigenous people. Even though we may come from different backgrounds, I can provide spiritual support through ceremony, song and teachings to bring patients comfort in their time of need,” he says.
“When a person comes into a hospital as a minority, they feel alone. So when they see someone like me—someone that looks like them and understands their cultural needs—it can bring them great peace,” he says, adding that his goal it supports patients in becoming participants in their own healing. To reassure them that they’re in the right place and that the health care providers are here to help.
That healing Gerry provided extended to more than just patients and their families. Staff from across the organization have benefited from his wisdom and teachings.
“As someone who struggled with identity, I found reassurance in Gerry’s full honesty, and acceptance of all those also struggling with their own self-acceptance,” says Jordan Robinson, graphics and production specialist for Indigenous Health. “Healing is a lifelong journey, and hearing Gerry’s traditional and modern teachings can be just the words some are searching for.”
Bringing knowledge and wisdom to every interaction
In December, Gerry was honoured with a special ceremony to recognize his tremendous contributions to Indigenous Health. With more than 50 years of experience working in human services, Gerry brings a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to every interaction to ensure cultural safety and humility across programs and services. But as many of his colleagues would attest, it is difficult to put into words the profound impact Gerry has had on our patients and our community.
“Gerry enters each meeting space with the unwavering goal of transformation and systemic change all in service of Indigenous peoples and communities,” says Makonen E.G. Bondoc, collaborative practice and policy lead for Indigenous Health. “His teachings of how to work together are of profound influence on everyone he meets and has the opportunity to listen to his words of truth and lived experience. He truly is assimilating Canadians into Indigenous culture, which he defines as a way of life.”
A fierce advocate, contributor and promoter of the Indigenous Health team’s work, Gerry has impacted many branches of PHSA—bringing teachings, wisdom and guidance to every interaction. He also brings knowledge and passion to disrupting the systemic racism and colonization that exists in our health care system—encouraging those around him to do the same.
“Gerry inspires our decolonization journeys and acts as a rudder by reminding us what is important when we start to drift,” says Nancy Laliberte from Indigenous Health. “He approaches tough conversations about racism with love. It is beautiful to witness and something we all try to emulate.”
“I’ve gained deep gratitude and respect for Gerry because of how he consistently shows up to support people doing work to disrupt Indigenous specific racism,” says Diane Smylie, Senior Director, San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Learning Programs. “It’s only recently, that I’ve come to understand how generous he is in sharing his loving support with a wide range of people from across the country who are working for justice and improvements for Indigenous People.”
Kinanâskomitin, Gerry for everything you do for our patients, clients, families and staff here at PHSA.