Traditional Aboriginal Medicines Find a Home at St. Paul’s Hospital

Friday, June 21, 2013, Vancouver, BC – St. Paul’s Hospital opened its newly created All Nations Sacred Space to the public today, as part of celebrations for National Aboriginal Day. The space provides an area for smudging and pipe ceremonies, recognizing these traditional medicines as an important component of aboriginal health care.

The event took place on the rooftop garden at St. Paul’s Hospital with music and food, as well as tours of the Sacred Space. In attendance was Deb Cardinal, a Cree woman who came to St. Paul’s Hospital four years ago for HIV treatment. Cardinal participated in a smudging ceremony in the Sacred Space to help mark National Aboriginal Day.

“This really means a lot to me. Whenever I come to St. Paul’s, I always go to the All Nations space for quiet time,” said Cardinal. “I like the smell of it, the smell of sage really brings you back into the moment. You feel very clean. It’s comforting”.

The Sacred Space features a Coast Salish-designed rug, custom, semi-circular benches (in aboriginal culture circles represent a non-hierarchical environment) and cedar effect flooring. A ventilation system was installed to allow the smudging ceremonies to take place indoors. Smudging ceremonies provide clarity and cleansing and are considered an integral part of the aboriginal healing journey. Traditional medicines including cedar, tobacco, sage and sweetgrass are burned in an abalone shell and wafted using an eagle feather.

“This is truly an important step forward for the treatment of our aboriginal patients,” said Scott Harrison, Program Director for Urban Health at Providence Health Care. “By bringing traditional aboriginal medicines into our hospital, we’re opening our doors to the aboriginal community and expressing our desire to accommodate their culture.”

The Sacred Space is the latest initiative in an effort to improve care for the aboriginal population at St. Paul’s Hospital. An Aboriginal Health Improvement Committee was created last year to help incorporate traditional healing into health care, as well as help patients navigate the health system, connect them with resources, and assist them in connecting with elders. The hospital has also created an Aboriginal Nurse Practice Leader position, which is held by Carol Kellman whose Cree name is Red Road Woman. Kellman is carrying on the family tradition as her mother was also a nurse.

“To know that I am carrying on my mother’s legacy, and that Providence Health Care is prepared to accommodate aboriginal people in this way is a point of pride,” said Kellman. “We’ve been very blessed to create this space. The elders are so grateful. Aboriginal people experience a higher proportion of health concerns than the general population and efforts like these help make the health care system a friendlier, more approachable environment.”

Dalannah Gayle Bowen, a renowned aboriginal blues singer, performed at the event accompanied by a guitarist. As well, guests sampled traditional aboriginal foods like maple salmon and berries. Tours of the Sacred Space included a traditional smudging ceremony.

The renovations of the Sacred Space were completed in May 2013. St. Paul’s Hospital has one of the most diverse aboriginal populations, providing care to members of bands hailing from across Canada. The All Nations Sacred Space is intended to welcome all aboriginal peoples regardless of their traditional territories. Several patients have already had sacred ceremonies performed in the Sacred Space including smudging and pipe ceremonies. Patients can have the ceremonies performed any time during their health journey.

To view a short video about the All Nations Sacred Space, please click the following link:

Providence Health Care (PHC) is one of Canada's largest faith-based health care organizations, operating 16 health care facilities in Greater Vancouver. PHC operates one of two adult academic health science centres in the province, performs cutting-edge research in more than 30 clinical specialties, and focuses its services on six “populations of emphasis”: cardio-pulmonary risks and illnesses, HIV/AIDS, mental health, renal risks and illness, specialized needs in aging and urban health and is home to the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

For more information please contact:

Dave Lefebvre
Senior Communications Specialist – Media Relations
Providence Health Care
604-682-2344 xt.66987
604-837-6003 (c)