Nuu-chah-nulth healing practices introduced to health care staff in Tofino

Melissa Renwick , Local Journalism Initiative / Ha-Shilth-Sa
April 11, 2021

Chris Seitcher, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation cultural support worker, at Esowista, near Tofino, is helping health-care staff to incorporate traditional healing practices into First Nations care. MELISSA RENWICK, HA-SHILTH-SA

[Excerpt] When Dr. Luke Williston first heard about the Tla-o-qui-aht men’s group, his ears perked up.

As one of Tofino’s primary care and emergency room physicians, Williston often treats patients who struggle with alcoholism and substance abuse.

When he started seeing the same three men returning to the hospital nearly every month, Williston was at a loss. He arranged for counselling and prescribed medication, but none of his methods seemed to help.

Thinking back to the men’s group, Williston approached Chris Seitcher, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation cultural support worker, and asked about bringing a cultural healer into the hospital.

They arranged for Dwayne Martin to perform a cleansing ceremony for the patients and the immediate benefits were “hard to ignore,” Williston said.

For the following year, Williston said, he hardly saw those patients.

“That’s the Western medicine in me,” he said. “I’m results-oriented and want to see people get better. If our way isn’t doing it, we have to be open to seeing what could work better — and I know this does.”

In February 2020, Williston and Seitcher organized a ceremony to introduce physicians, nurses, and X-ray and laboratory technicians to Nuu-chah-nulth traditional healing practices.

“If we introduce our culture to the hospital and if the doctors and the staff are able to understand it, they’ll be more open to having it there,” Seitcher said.

The ultimate goal is to regularly incorporate culturally appropriate ceremonies for First Nations as a method of healing within the hospital.

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