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“Nurturing Spirit” and a feeling of belonging are essential to my health and wellness

​Sep 12, 2018

New Personal Wellness Message Series: Each month, medical officers from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer (OCMO) will be sharing personal stories aligned with one or more of the FNHA's 4 key wellness streams: Being Active, Eating Healthy, Nurturing Spirit and Respecting Tobacco. In other words, we will be sharing about what we are doing to walk the FNHA's talk and "live it."

Our first contributor is Dr. Nel Wieman, on the importance of "Nurturing Spirit" in her life.​


"Nurturing Spirit" and a feeling of belonging are essential to my health and wellness

By Dr. Nel Wieman, Senior Medical Officer – Mental Health & Wellness

I'm a psychiatrist by profession, and I'm also a survivor of the Sixties' Scoop. This means that I help people with their mental health and wellness issues, even though, as a result of my experiences while growing up, I've had some significant mental health and wellness issues to work through and heal from myself. Healing is an ongoing process, of course – one that has contributed to my work as it's given me a deep empathy and understanding of the emotional pain many people struggle with as a result of their own life experiences. I can share with others some of the tools that helped me to heal.

Although all of the four wellness streams are important to health, "Nurturing Spirit" is particularly essential to me because my spirit has always been searching – for a place to call "home," to be connected, to belong. This is because, as a result of the Sixties' Scoop, I grew up in several foster homes as an infant and toddler before being made a Crown ward and eventually adopted by non-Indigenous parents around the age of four. The thing about being adopted is that, in many instances, one does not really know one's exact past history. This is true for me. I grew up not only away from my own family, but disconnected from my home community, my ceremonies, my language, and my culture. I have since found out some information about my relations and now know that I come from a family of traditional healers, and so it seems fitting that I ended up becoming a physician, fulfilling an innate need to help others in their healing.

Questions of spirituality always initially evoke in me feelings of sadness, grief, and even inadequacy. When people ask me why, as an adult, I am not fluent in my language or have not gone "home" to my First Nation community, I have used a variety of excuses. But the real, true answer is that it is simply too painful for me, even now.

I have spent my entire career moving around to different geographic locations and making wherever I happen to be working "home." Early on, I spent eight years living near and working on a large First Nations reserve community. It felt like home after a while. Mid-career, I felt very much a part of the urban Indigenous community in downtown Toronto. And in January this year, my family and I moved across the country to Vancouver so I could take on my new role at FNHA. To my delight, I learned that the FNHA has been adopted into the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation's Wolf Clan, to which I was welcomed as a new member of the FNHA family. It all fell into place for me in my mind: instead of feeling sadness or loss, I came to the realization that maybe it is my destiny to move through this life being "adopted" by successive Indigenous communities. It feels right to me. ​I can be at "home" each time, and through participating in ceremony and cultural aspects of community, I can gradually increase my feelings of being a valuable, contributing member.


This sense of belonging and being more at peace with myself here in Vancouver allows me to nurture my spirit more than before. I am beginning to learn some songs – the beautiful Coast Salish anthem we sing together at FNHA's Monday morning prayer is the main one. Recently, I enjoyed singing and drumming as part of the FNHA contingent marching in Vancouver's Pride Parade, and I'm eager to learn more as time passes. Working, living and playing within the Coast Salish territory certainly provides many and diverse opportunities to connect with this area's Indigenous peoples as well as nature and the outdoors. I have always considered walking in the forest as my version of "going to church," so my family and I try to get out most weekends and experience the natural beauty of British Columbia. We laugh, talk and silently appreciate the wonders of these lands.

I also try to practise mindfulness on a daily basis. To me, "being mindful" means living in the moment, in the present – not thinking about other things, especially worries about the past or future. In my home, I am fortunate to have a fantastic view of the water, the parks, and the mountains. Every morning before I go to work, I look out and try to be mindful – to be fully present to appreciate the geographical beauty of this area and not take it for granted. And every night before I go to sleep, I run through a simple list of gratitude in my mind.

So, to recap, these are the ways I nurture my spirit: getting outdoors, especially in nature; spending time with my family, including my dog; being mindful and ​consciously aware of all of the things, big and small, that I am grateful for. A big one these days is that Vancouver is now my home and I am now a part of the FNHA family! There's plenty for me to be happy about and I'm excited by the opportunities to continue to learn and grow – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I look forward to continuing to work with and get to know my FNHA family members as we navigate our respective health and wellness journeys.​

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