They were there to provide guidance, advice and wisdom.

A group of approximately 13 First Nations and Metis Elders attended a meeting with Saskatoon Health Region staff at the Central Urban Metis Federation Incorporated on Avenue M South in Saskatoon on December 16.

“This is actually our first Elders gathering we’ve had in a long time,” Gabe Lafond, director of First Nations and Metis Health Services in Saskatoon Health Region, told the Elders present. “I’m looking forward to seeking advice from the Elders. This is a real blessing, to have so much wisdom in a room. There is so much good energy coming from our advisors.”

First Nations Elders gather at a meeting

First Nations Elders from across Saskatchewan gathered to hear about a new policy on smudging and ceremonial tobacco use within Saskatoon Health Region facilities on December 16.

The Elders who came to the gathering all reside in Saskatoon, but have connections to communities all over the province. Many had ties to other First Nations organizations and action groups, and a few of them to Saskatoon Health Region through the Region’s spiritual care program. They were there to give their opinions and advice on smudging and tobacco policies the Region is developing and changing.

A smudging ceremony is a significant part of First Nations culture. It involves burning medicines in a focused, intentional way, most often as a cleansing technique, or to energize or bless a person, place or object.  Clients, residents, families and staff may request a smudging ceremony while receiving care and services as part of their health and healing journey. Spiritual and Cultural Care workers are performing the ceremonies already, both at regular times and upon request, and rooms have been set aside for this purpose in all three major hospitals in the city. However, there is no formal policy around facilitating smudging ceremonies.

It is hoped that a smudging facilitation policy will provide a framework for staff to accommodate requests for such ceremonies even at the bedside.

A formal smudging facilitation policy would also address traditional use of tobacco. Saskatoon Health Region currently has a tobacco and smoke-free workplace policy that not only sets out boundaries for recreational use of tobacco, it addresses and permits traditional use of tobacco to a certain extent. However, given the sacred nature of tobacco among Aboriginal cultures, recommendations were put forward to address traditional use of tobacco within a separate policy.

It’s the recommendation of both Gabe Lafond and Brian Walton, director of Spiritual and Cultural Care, that a new policy facilitate smudging ceremonies, and include an enhanced, culturally competent context for traditional use of tobacco in health care facilities.

After hearing about the policies at the gathering, the Elders provided keen insight and feedback which will be discussed by Lafond and other members of Saskatoon Health Region staff involved in writing the policy.

Both Lafond and Walton were very thankful for the input provided by the Elders, and promise that this consultation will not be their last.

“We want to have ongoing Elders gatherings,” Walton said.