June 21 marked a significant day for PHSA: it was National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and in a special ceremony fitting for a day that celebrates First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples across Canada, Coast Salish Knowledge Keeper, Sulksun, Shane Pointe formally presented the organization with his gift of six Coast Salish teachings.
Sulksun’s gift of teachings comes from his Coast Salish heritage and his relationships to many Coast Salish villages. The teachings give PHSA a strong connection to the ways of being of the First Peoples of the land it’s on, as our head office is located in what is now known as Vancouver, on the unceded territories of three Coast Salish Nations: the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. The ceremony also marked PHSA’s responsibility to uphold the teachings as per Coast Salish legal order.
Sulksun began the morning with a moving opening and welcome, and was followed by vice president, Indigenous Health and Cultural Safety Joe Gallagher, Kwunuhmen, who spoke about the importance of using the teachings as a foundation to the work we do and the care we provide. “You have gifted us your heart and your teachings,” Kwunuhmen said. “We humbly accept them and will pick them up, making them part of the DNA of PHSA so that employees today, and all those who join us in the future, know what they mean and the accountability they bring.”
Witnessing a critical moment
As PHSA board members prepared themselves to receive the teachings on behalf of the organization, Kwunuhmen called on the six witnesses who accepted responsibility to hold and care for the history they observed, and to share what they saw, felt and heard when asked or see a need to make it known. The witnesses included:
- David Byres, president and CEO
- Susan Good, vice president, People & Culture
- Susan Wannamaker, executive vice president, Clinical Service Delivery
- Dr. Eric Webber, chair, PHSA Health Authority Medical Advisory Committee and head of pediatric surgery at BC Children’s Hospital
Heather Hastings, executive director, Indigenous Health
Kwiis Hamilton, graphics and production coordinator, Indigenous Health (and nephew of Sulksun)
The board members present thanked each witness for this meaningful work of sharing their experience at the ceremony with others.
Sulksun presented the teachings, each of which were engraved on six canoe paddles displayed at the front of the room. It should be noted that the words from the teachings are from the Halkomelem or Hul’qumi’num language, which is spoken by about 40 out of 54 Coast Salish First Nations and is one of several Coast Salish languages. “What I’m gifting to you,” Sulksun explained, “is who I am. These teachings are the laws of my life, given to me when I was young. These teachings are true wealth.” He then invited the board members to stand up to proactively indicate their commitment to using the teachings to guide how we will work with our colleagues and the patients and families we serve.
Expressing our gratitude
Gloria Morgan, PHSA board member and of the Splatsin First Nation, led the board and a few of the witnesses in thanking Sulksun for his poignant words and powerful gift. To acknowledge the unceded lands on which they live, work and play, and the ancestors who preceded all of us, each board member and witness presented Sulksun with a rock from a place that has significance to them. They thanked him for his partnership in the transformative work of building a culturally safe and inclusive workplace at PHSA. Board Chair Tim Manning and executive director of systems transformation for Indigenous Health, Brad Anderson, also presented Sulksun with Indigenous artwork as tokens of gratitude.
Sharing the impact
The witnesses began their work of sharing what they heard, saw, and felt during the ceremony, with each one standing up to reflect on the morning and reiterate their commitment to building on the pivotal moments they observed. David Byres commented on the “power, purpose and accountability” he heard, acknowledging the acceptance of this gift, but also the need for action.
Board Chair Tim Manning shared his thoughts on incorporating the teachings into both our professional and personal lives, as they are valuable lessons that can benefit us beyond the confines of our jobs, positively impacting our loved ones as well.
“With the gift of these teachings, we are going to create a new PHSA,” said Tim. “I am humbled by what Sulksun has shared with us. I stand up and accept these teachings, knowing that in doing so, I accept responsibility to take them seriously and do my best everyday. I hope everyone at PHSA, today and seven generations from today, will join me in this work.”
Gloria Morgan closed the day with a performance of the “Travelling Song,” which, as she says, “is sung all over Turtle Island to help us on our way. We are all on a journey!”
Hychca (thank you)
Now that Sulksun’s teachings have been formally gifted to all of us at PHSA, the opportunity lies before us to infuse them into our day-to-day work and our relationships with each other:
- Every day begins with
Thee eat, “truth,” as it relates to the true history of the country and its continual impact on First Nations, other Indigenous Peoples and other peoples who experience racism and discrimination in the health system and in greater society.
- We must acknowledge that we, and everything around us from the land is medicine. We have to make a purposeful choice everyday to be
Eyhh slaxin, “good medicine,” to others and to the land.
- We also acknowledge we are
Nuts a maht, “we are one.” Everyone and everything has value. We are one with all living things such as the animals, the plants, the land and the water. All living things deserve dignity and respect. As human beings, everyone has value and must work together to take care of the ecosystem we depend on for future generations.
- To be successful as one we have to
Whax hooks in shqwalowin, “open up our hearts and minds,” to accept new ways of knowing and being and to afford one another respect and dignity.
- We will
Kwum kwum stun shqwalowin, “make up our minds to be strong,” in mind body and spirit to face the adversity and conflict we will encounter to eliminate Indigenous specific racism and other forms of racism and discrimination.
Tee ma thit, “do your best.” We commit to embrace these Coast Salish Teaching every day and will do our best in our work and in society to inspire others and to care for people and the land.