“Learning about the W̱SÁNEĆ view on end of life was incredibly important and touching. The words of the elders involved with the project have meant the most to me – they were really guiding this whole process.”
Noted Indigenous filmmaker Eli Hirtle is referring to his film, W̱SÁNEĆ Journey Home, which documents a three year project that brought together W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations community members, Island Health staff, a variety of health care providers and others to listen to and learn from one another about how to provide culturally safe end of life care to patients and families within four W̱SÁNEĆ communities.
“I was pleased to know that non-Indigenous caregivers were interested in learning First Nations ways of caring for our people,” says Lucia Bartleman, Journey Home participant and Health Manager, Pauquachin First Nation. “It’s important to pass that knowledge along, not only for caregivers, but for some of our younger generation who don’t know how to look after their families when they are dying, or are afraid to.”
An important element of Journey Home was learning circles where participants shared information about Indigenous end of life experiences. Over the duration of the project, six learning circles spurred sharing and learning between nine elders, 21 W̱SÁNEĆ community members, 11 home support workers, ten nurses, nine family and palliative physicians, three nurse practitioners, three Island Health managers, and two First Nation Health Authority policy advisors.
“During the learning circles, the teachings were most often delivered by way of storytelling,” says Dr. Leah Norgrove, a palliative care physician at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. “At times, people told very personal, sacred stories of caring for family members or offered wisdom about traditions they have been taught.”
Ensuring that Indigenous community members receive culturally safe care is the crux of the Journey Home project with participants offering and receiving information about the importance of determining and respecting end of life wishes for W̱SÁNEĆ community members.
“Do not speak above us – speak to us,” requested one W̱SÁNEĆ elder.
Elders discussed the use of traditional medicines, and spoke about the importance of supporting families of those who are dying, providing both emotional and financial assistance as a community.
“Journey Home really opened up the conversation around palliative care for Indigenous communities,” says Heather Hastings, Journey Home participant and Health Manager, Tsartlip First Nation. “Through this collaborative process, we have built relationships and partnerships that have allowed everyone involved to understand, respect and learn from one another.”
“I’ve learned so much about the importance of connection and building relationships,” says Jennifer Wear, Clinical Nurse Leader at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. “When people can’t care for their loved ones at home, I now have a deeper understanding of what they might be looking for when they require palliative care in a hospital setting.”
With the Journey Home project permanently captured on video, participants are hoping the film can be shared widely to inspire other communities and health care providers to find out how they can support culturally safe care journeys, which can vary between each community, family and individual. Building a foundation of respect creates a safe place to ask questions and share stories about what matters most.
“Archiving the video isn’t for Journey Home participants - it’s to share with as many others as possible because one day we are not going to be here and caring for our people is very important,” says Lucia Bartleman.
“The generosity of story, of wisdom, of experience was so profound – we were privileged to be a part of those conversations,” adds Dr. Norgrove.
Journey Home project partners include W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations, Island Health, Shared Care Committee, and South Island Division of Family Practice (partnerships of Doctors of BC and the BC government), BC Centre for Palliative Care, and the Saanich Peninsula Hospital and Healthcare Foundation. The film can be viewed free of charge here or see below.