Get to know our Aboriginal Health Team

Scott Harrison, who has been with PHC since 2008, officially formed the Aboriginal Health Team in 2011.

As Director of HIV/AIDS, Urban Health & Addiction Services, Scott recognized that a leader with some ability to remove barriers and support system level changes needed to hold the space for Aboriginal health; a role which he subsequently took on for a number of reasons.

“I’ve got a long background in health care (25 years). As a nurse and throughout my career I’ve always worked with populations that have been pushed to the margins for one reason or the other,” he comments. “Having worked with indigenous communities in my own country, I saw similarities between how Canada’s indigenous population has been treated historically and how that’s paralleled globally. I also felt called to this work because of the very clear sense that something needed to shift and a lot of frustration at the resistance to even talk about Aboriginal issues.”

Carol Kellman, Aboriginal Nurse Practice Leader

“She is a highly experienced nurse with strong clinical skills and so she is able to help staff translate traditional practices into bedside nursing, which is a really important factor in how we can make it fit, and overcome barriers in adapting traditional practice and care to allow both things to sit comfortably together,” explains Scott.

Carol, whose mother is a residential school survivor and a nurse on the team that performed the first open heart surgery in Canada and whose grandmother was the first Cree nurse to work in the Fort Garry Prison, started at St. Paul's at the beginning of the HIV epidemic. She then left temporarily to open the first medical youth detox in Vancouver called “Connections.” 

“I then became a second-generation street nurse and worked on the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society's (DEYAS) original needle exchange van and helped set up the Maximally Assisted Therapy (MAT program) and the Hepatitis C clinic at the Vancouver Native Health Society,” explains Carol. “I have worked on many research projects including VIDUS, HIV Vaccine Trial, HIV HEP C-coinfection research and most recently a peer-led aboriginal iniative called 'Building Bridges.' My lived experience as a nurse and aboriginal women is that culture saves lives.”

In addition, now back at St. Paul's, Carol provides support to our own staff, is on-call to be with patients and families at critical times in their life and engages community resources when required, like when a patient requests assistance from an elder or wants to engage with the Aboriginal Services available at the hospital.

“She is a presence in the community and is very respected as an Aboriginal woman who follows traditional teachings in her daily life and then brings that to work and plants those seeds here and helps them to flourish,” says Scott. “She is also our knowledge keeper at PHC. She shares her teachings and her ancestral teachings, and brings the presence of her mother and grandmother into our work.” Find out about just one of the ways Carol has partnered with the community. 

Neil Fowler, program assistant, HIV and Aboriginal Health

Neil tackles the “behind the curtain” stuff, which enables everything to happen.

“He looks after the majority of the coordination in making sure events happen: ensuring catering is booked and all of the logistics that are required are taken care of including the major stuff like kitting out a huge conference room to ensure it can be pitch black to accommodate a Yuwipi ceremony healing ceremony) so that patients and communities can walk in and have their experience without any awareness of what was needed to create it,” says Scott.  “Major ceremonies require huge logistical work including cooking a traditional feast for over 100 people.”

Neil is a graduate of UBC’s Aboriginal Health and Community Administration Program, and utilizes all that he has learned in this program in his role with PHC.  “Elder's Helper” is a term used a lot to describe Neil’s role, and is also one that resonates with Neil as it is a traditional term, to be “an elder’s helper.” As a key liaison and link to community, Carol and Neil support Elders when they come into the hospital, ensuring that they get to the right place, have someone with them during ceremony and to help them with traditional ceremony.

Neil is also a certified Peer Counselor and assists Carol, as she leads the Talking Circle, a weekly gathering for Aboriginal patients of the hospital in St. Paul’s All Nations Sacred Space.  

For both Carol and Neil, it’s important that part of their time is spent being involved in ceremony and indigenous practice, as they are charged with holding the space for this work in the organization.

“It’s something central to their well-being as both staff and practitioners, and it’s also important for the community to be working with staff who are actually embedded in indigenous practice as a part of their daily life,” explains Scott.

In addition, this small and mighty team is also mindful to note that there is a large network of people who help them get their work done, from social workers to Pastoral Care to Physical Plant.  

Now that you know who the Aboriginal Health Team is, find out what they do.