A message from Dr. Unjali Malhotra, Office of the Chief Medical Officer, and Clinical Nurse Specialist Sara Pyke, Office of the Chief Nursing Officer
It’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week (Feb. 13-17), and since this year's theme is “Get the Facts,” we’re highlighting three Indigenous colleagues who are doing the important work of getting out the facts about taking care of our sexual health. They are Community Health Nurse Sophie Mack, who is a member of the Nuxalk Nation, along with Indigenous graduate students Piper Scott-Fiddler (Métis Nation British Columbia) and Samantha Martin-Ferris (Gitksan Nation), who are studying at the University of British Columbia (UBC) through the Faculty of Medicine's WACH (Women+ and Children's Health) program. All three women are passionate about helping other First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in becoming informed about how to care for their sexual and reproductive health, and how it is their right to access sexual health care services that are respectful and free of racism. They know this is an important part of wholistic (i.e., physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being) health and wellness. They also know that traditional knowledge and values support healthy sexuality, healthy relationships, identity, adulthood, and rites of passage – and help keep people and communities healthy and strong. Their work provides education that incorporates both Western medicine and cultural teachings. Sophie, who has been nursing in her own community for 13 years, uses in her work a Harm Reduction and Sexual Health Education toolkit she developed herself. Piper and Samantha are developing a Life-Giver toolkit for use by health care professionals in First Nations communities. Here is some information about these amazing women. Sophie Mack has always been passionate about promoting access to culturally safe sexual health education and services for First Nations youth. She holds specialty nursing certifications in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and contraception. At the Nuxalk Nation Health Centre, Sophie offers testing for STIs, as well as access to birth control and other sexual health services. She also supports sexual health education at the school. Through engaging with youth, Sophie realized there was a need to transform the way sexual health education for youth was developed and delivered. She believes the most effective approach would be building up youth leaders to educate and support their peers. With the support of a First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) Harm Reduction Grant, Sophie started up a youth group with nine members. Together, they came up with a list of priorities for sexual health education and developed the framework for a facilitator’s manual that incorporates both Western medical information and cultural teachings. The youth received education on a variety of sexual health and harm reduction topics, took First Aid and CPR training, and learned how to do cedar weaving with community Elders. Self-care, mental and emotional supports, and supports for grief and loss were also incorporated into their education and training. Now, the youth share what they have learned through engagement with their peers. With grant funding from the Pacific Aids Network, the group currently has 14 members and big plans to continue this great work. Sophie explains that having youth lead this work has helped community members feel more comfortable in talking about sexual health and sharing cultural teachings. She credits the youth with bringing energy, enthusiasm, positivity, and humour to sexual health education as well as ensuring it is grounded in culture. Sophie describes how she has seen sexual health education shift away from shame, and towards confidence, pride, and culture.We raise our hands to Sophie and the Nuxalk youth who are making a positive change to help youth “get the facts” about their sexual and reproductive health in a culturally safe way! Keep up the great work!Indigenous graduate students Piper Scott-Fiddler and Samantha Martin-Ferris, with the guidance of their supervisor Dr. Sarah Munro (UBC Assistant Professor with the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology) and mentorship from Dr. Unjali Malhotra (FNHA Office of the Chief Medical Officer Women's Health Medical Officer), have been developing a toolkit for Indigenous women called “The Lifegiver Box.” It will be filled with sexual health products, Indigenous cultural wellness products, and knowledge translation tools that help address the community’s wants and needs and promote culturally safe wellness through self-determination. The Lifegiver Box is not just a toolkit; it is a complementary service supporting Indigenous lifegivers’ rights to support their own journeys to wellness in sexual health. It is focused on cultural wellness and accessible products, which allows for the program to be grounded in culture and tradition, and to be meaningful to each community as it brings something that was lost through colonization: celebrating womanhood. “The Lifegiver Box” is such a wonderful idea that Piper and Samantha have been invited to present it at the 2023 UN World’s Challenge at UBC on March 1. This challenge seeks to engage students on international issues and how they can play a part in sparking social change and solving global problems. We raise our hands to Samantha and Piper, and wish them luck at the UN World Challenge! This is only the beginning of what will surely be amazing careers in public health!For more information about Sexual Health Care Services, ideas for positive conversations with health care providers, and more, click here. Remember, it is your right to have good health care to support your sexual health and wellbeing. Feeling comfortable talking with your health care provider is a first step. By taking good care of your sexual health now, you are helping ensure a healthy future for yourself. If you do not have access to a local nurse or doctor, you can book a virtual appointment with the First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day by calling 1-855-344-3800 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., seven days per week. For general sexual health questions, information and resources, you can call SexSense at 1-800-739-7367 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., Monday to Friday.We also recommend that you check out our webpage on sexual health, which includes the FNHA fact sheet “Sexual Wellbeing Learning Model" and links to other great resources promoting sexual health and wellness for Indigenous youth and young adults, including the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and YouthCo: Yúusnewas."