The First Nations Health & Wellness Summit, held from April 4-6, 2023, brought together a group of more than 400 participants at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver to share wise, community-driven practices for wholistic wellness. The impressive turnout reflects a collective passion and eagerness to gather and share innovative ways that communities and partners are addressing the critical health issues impacting First Nations children, families and communities in BC.
The central theme of the Summit revolved around addressing the disproportionate and profound impact of the ongoing toxic drug crisis, health emergencies and recent findings from residential schools on the health and wellness of First Nations in BC.
The event featured a series of keynote speakers, workshops and interactive discussions that highlighted community-based wise and best practices. The intention was to support participants to take these valuable learnings back to their respective communities and incorporate them as appropriate to foster positive change. Participants also had the opportunity to engage in practical training and education that aimed at enhancing their capacity to address trauma, addiction, harm reduction, and overall wellness.
FNHA Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nel Wieman's keynote captivated the audience with her personal journey towards wellness, which started from her childhood experiences.
Dr. Wieman recounted her struggles with lack of food security, growing up with racism in Thunder Bay, facing discouragement when pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor and the racism she encountered in medical school. Despite these challenges, she found solace in running, "I'd put two shoes on my feet and one foot in front of the other and just fly." She also found support and guidance from Indigenous mentors, who had a profound influence on her life.
Dr. Wieman expressed gratitude towards the organizers of the Summit for their decision to change the venue from the Hyatt Regency to the Pan Pacific. She emphasized the importance of taking action remarking, "This is what we mean when we talk about 'speak up' culture. It comes with action."
Dr. Wieman then shared her journey towards learning to deal with her trauma, drawing inspiration from the Japanese art of kintsugi, where broken objects are repaired with gold to create something more beautiful than the original.
"People are more beautiful for having been broken," she eloquently shared, inspiring the audience to embrace their own struggles as a source of strength and beauty.
Traditional hoop dance artist and popular TikTok creator James Jones, also known as Notorious Cree, shared his wellness journey and emphasized the importance of culture in promoting wellness. “Culture saved my life and I believe culture and wellness can save lives," he said before his performance. Participants were inspired by his message and excited to see his exceptional dancing.
Watch Notorious Cree's performance here.
The First Nations-led Primary Care Initiative (FNPCI) keynote focused on two projects, the Lu'ma Medical Centre and the First Nations Wellness Centre-Williams Lake. These initiatives are examples of how to improve access to primary health care services for First Nations people across BC in a way that is culturally safe and closer to home.
Dr. Charlotte Coté emphasized the importance of revitalizing food sovereignty as a means of nurturing pathways to wholistic wellness. She advocates for restoring food sovereignty and re-indigenizing diets, explaining that resisting unhealthy, Western foods forced on them and choosing to eat traditional foods is a political act against settler colonialism.
Interactive breakout sessions over the next three days were an opportunity to hear about activities and lessons learned from health practitioners and communities, share wise practices, and generate fruitful discussion through Q & A. Participants engaged in dialogue sessions covering topics ranging from toxic drug response, health emergency management, primary care and many more.
Thank you to the cultural supports at the First Nations Health & Wellness Summit for the critical role they played in the well-being of participants and staff. The traditional wellness services such as cedar and eagle fan brushings, smudging, Reiki and praying were invaluable, and greatly contributed to the delegates' experience and well-being.