North Island Hospital ceremony recognizes value of traditional and medicinal plants


North Island Hospital ceremony recognizes value of traditional and medicinal plants

The North Island Hospital campuses in the Comox Valley and Campbell River will feature gardens of traditional plants and medicinal herbs thanks to a multi-faceted effort including Island Health, First Nations and local experts.

A planting ceremony took place June 23rd near the main entrance to the North Island Hospital Comox Valley campus, including representatives from the K’ómoks First Nation, Island Health, the First Nations Health Authority, the Kwakiutl District Council (KDC), the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District, the North Island Hospital’s Aboriginal Working Group, the Traditional Plants and Medicines Working Group, the Wachiay Friendship Centre, local Elders and other supporters.

The ceremony took place just outside The Gathering Place, a room for quite reflection, sharing and spiritual ceremony for people of all cultures. Each hospital campus has a Gathering Place near the main entrance. The rooms feature sound proofing and an independent ventilation system to accommodate music, drumming and smudging ceremonies. The Gathering Place design includes an outdoor garden with traditional medicinal plants.

Chief Nicole Rempel welcomed everyone to the traditional lands of the K’ómoks People, saying her people have lived in the Valley since time immemorial, and have learned from and lived off the land and sea.

“The World Health Organization has acknowledged the importance of traditional healing,” she said. “I’m pleased to see the recognition of traditional plants, here at the new Comox Valley Hospital.

“First Nations people have a strong connection to the land and have a great deal of knowledge from our land. Our ancestors have passed this knowledge down, generation to generation, and our Elders have longstanding knowledge about the relationship with plants, everything from circulatory, gastric and intestinal problems to even healing with cancer.”

K’ómoks Elder Barb Whyte was a driving force and vital source of knowledge in the planning of the Gathering Place garden.

“Our plant medicines have been here for generations, to support the wellbeing of our First Nations people, and we are generous in sharing our knowledge with the community,” she said. “I’m proud to be a part of the garden that’s in front of the hospital. It’s a dream coming true, to see our plants being acknowledged for their medicinal properties.

“It’s a wonderful day today, to have our gardens being planted and the partnership that’s being created with Island Health, the First Nations Health Authority and KDC.”

The garden, and another to be planted next year at the North Island Hospital Campbell River & District campus Gathering Place, will integrate culturally relevant knowledge into a healthcare setting that supports culturally safe health care. The gardens will create a healing and relaxing environment for patients, their families, other hospital users, and staff, as well as providing community members access to learn more about traditional plants and herbs.

Planning the Comox Valley garden with Elder Barb Whyte was a special learning experience for Emily Dunlop, Stantec’s Senior Landscape Architect on the project.

“I want to personally thank Elder Barb Whyte for being so fantastic to work with,” Dunlop said. “We went to nurseries together. We spent lots of time together talking about the different plants and the ideas for the garden. We’re both very excited to have this day come.

“It’s been so special and I’ve learned so much. It’s incredible. As a landscape architect I obviously already value plants and what they offer people on many different levels but this is a whole new level and a lot of knowledge. There’s years and years and years of knowledge here. I appreciate it so much.”

The Gathering Place garden project was guided by the Traditional Plants and Medicines Working Group, comprised of knowledge-holders recommended by the First Nations and Aboriginal organizations from the North Island. The Gathering Place and other aspects of the new hospital were designed with input from a number of groups and individuals including elders, Sasamans Elder Group, Laichwiltach Language Group, Comox Valley Aboriginal Working Group, the local First Nation Health Authority’s Cultural Safety Steering Committee, the Wachiay Friendship Centre and others.

“I am very proud of Island Health and all of our partners for such a modern hospital facility that supports cultural safety and cultural humility, two of Island Health’s core values,” said Island Health Board Chair Don Hubbard. “This garden is an example of how we can collaborate with our communities to integrate local Aboriginal knowledge and create a uniquely supportive yet familiar experience for Aboriginal patients.”

The Gathering Place garden features more than 330 trees, shrubs and perennials. Trees included Rocky Mountain Maple, Black Hawthorn and Oregon Crab Apple. Among the dozens of shrubs were Nodding Wild Onion, Western Hazelnut, Salal, Juniper, Oregon Grape, Salmonberry, Red Huckleberry and Dense Yew.

The garden is circular in design, after the traditional medicine wheel. Plants were located based on their physical, mental, spiritual and emotional properties.

See photo album: K’ómoks First Nation Chief Nicole Rempel plants alongside John Fitzgerald, North Island Hospital Project Clinical Project Director