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Kahontakwas Diane Longboat Vic 7T4

HEALING THE HUMAN SPIRIT

by kerry clare vic 0t2

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iguring out how to permit open fires on hospital grounds in the City of Toronto is no small task, but it’s the kind of bureaucratic challenge Kahontakwas Diane Longboat has specialized in throughout her career, most recently as an elder, traditional healer and senior project manager in Aboriginal Engagement and Outreach at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). In June 2016, CAMH opened medicine gardens, a sacred fire and sweat lodge on the grounds of its Queen Street campus, the first time such culturally relevant care has been made available to First Nations, Métis and Inuit clients and patients at a hospital in Ontario as part of the standard of care and an integral part of treatment plans. The project was the result of years of planning and the culmination of the dreams of elders such as Vern Harper who came before Longboat at CAMH; these are the kinds of connections that Longboat relishes. “I have had the chance to become friends with people within CAMH to whom, under regular working circumstances, I would never have access—the CAMH fire marshal, the managers within our facilities department, plant operations and maintenance, parking, security,” she explains. While there were alternatives to open fires, for example having a fire in a kiln, Longboat and her colleagues wanted the site to be as authentic as possible, and so part of their protocol now involves coordinating with the Toronto Fire Department when fires are lit and when they are extinguished. In its first year, more than 1,000 Indigenous clients, patients, staff members and guests have accessed services on-site, visiting the sacred fire, working with elders and traditional healers, and preparing for and undergoing the more intensive experience of the sweat lodge. “Many of our patients and clients are embracing their Indigenous heritage for the first time,” Longboat explains. “Having grown up—many of them in a foster care system or in the city—they had little or no access to their heritage. We know that culture,

Vic Report Winter 2018  
Vic Report Winter 2018  
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