As a residential school survivor, Elder Virginia Gilbert knows about the power of healing.
Standing beside Cariboo Memorial Hospital, the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) elder spoke about her time in residential school and the inter-generational trauma it caused her and her family. She delivered a prayer and a blessing in her traditional language, telling those gathered that now is the time for healing.
It was one of many powerful moments in an emotion-filled ceremony that was recently held to bless the CMH Redevelopment Project at the Williams Lake hospital.
“I’d like to say that I come from the residential school system and I’ve had a lot of healing circles that put me where I am today,” she said. “I learned your ways, the non-native ways. Now it’s time for the non-natives to come and learn our ways. We’ve got a lot of special things happening with healing and the power of our gatherings. You really need to see. I would like to thank the Great Spirit for this day.”
The blessing ceremony was held by the WLFN in partnership with Interior Health. Elder Virginia, Elder Linda Narcisse, Kukpi7 (Chief) Willie Sellars and cultural coordinator David Archie performed a traditional song and drum. They were joined by members of the WLFN, as well as representatives from the neighbouring Tsilhqot’in and Dãkelh Dené Nations, CMH staff and physicians, members of the CMH Redevelopment project team, Infrastructure BC and Graham Design Builders.
“I can really feel it in my heart, being here today, just standing on these grounds and envisioning what it is going to look like post-project,” said Kukpi7 Willie. “I couldn’t be more proud to be here to welcome you to the territory and participate in this blessing with our elders.”
Following the song, Lisa Zetes-Zanatta, Interior Health’s executive director of clinical operations for the Thompson Cariboo, spoke of the ongoing relationship with Nations in the Cariboo Chilcotin and how the Williams Lake hospital will be a welcoming place to people of all cultures.
“This is a place of healing. My commitment is to make sure that we as a people, regardless of where we were born, have a place to heal where we are all considered equal, where we all have our culture, our background, and our rights respected,” she said.
Those in attendance took part in a sage blessing, led by cultural coordinator David.
“The sage comes from our land, and it’s a great cleanser and healer for the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual parts of our being,” he said. “Together, we offer these prayers for the safety of the workers, for the safety of all the planners, for the safety of all the leaders, and that we move this forward in the best way. And when people come here to seek wellness, the prayers that we’ve offered today will give them the very first step of protection, safety and acceptance.”
The CMH Redevelopment Project is in the design stage. CMH health care teams, Indigenous stakeholders and other groups are working together, providing feedback that will create a care environment that is person-centred and culturally safe.
Construction on a new addition to CMH is expected to begin next year.