Twice in the past few months I have had the opportunity to participate in a Fireside Chat with my friend Len Pierre of Katzie First Nation, which have been hosted by the College of Physical Therapists of British Columbia. During the conversations, he and I each shared our perspectives and experiences: him as an Indigenous Person and Cultural Safety Educator, and me as a non-Indigenous person on my cultural humility journey, working as a clinician in First Nations communities.
A week after the first session was filmed I opened an email from a Physiotherapist who had watched the recording and felt compelled to reach out. She and her colleague, an Occupational Therapist, had stepped forward and offered their services to a remote community, and were extremely excited about the opportunity, but feeling apprehensive and uncertainty about practices and protocols they should be mindful of during their visit.
As we started emailing back and forth, I quickly discovered that the Nation they were traveling to was the same one I was going to, just a few days later! We were on the same helicopter, traveling with the amazing nonprofit organization, Helicopters Without Borders. We scheduled a video call for the weekend, and sat down to share a chat.
One of the first questions I asked them was who their community contact was. When visiting a Nation it is important to be invited, and not to arrive unexpectedly. George Harris Jr. often explains First Nations communities by saying: “visiting a Nation is like visiting someone's home. You wouldn’t ever just walk into someone's house and start poking around. It’s important to be invited in. And if you are invited in, it’s important to walk softly. Literally. Do not come in being loud or boisterous. Quietly read the room and pay attention to the dynamics of the space. This is how you show respect to your host.”
After we got that piece sorted out, I asked them if they knew any protocols around gift giving. When you are invited to a community, especially the first time, it is very important to bring a gift with you. George explains that “this is a way to show gratitude to your host. Gift-giving is an extremely important cultural practice.” This suggestion sparked a lot of questions: what is an appropriate gift? How should I give it? For me, if I don’t know how many people will be in the health center, I like to bring baking - something that can be sliced into multiple pieces and shared. I have also brought bags of small oranges, plums from my neighborhood, smoked salmon, and once even a sub sandwich platter. If possible, I try to bring something that is connected to me in some way, that provides context about who I am. Both women got thinking about what they could bring.
Finally, we talked about the importance of introductions. When I connected with Len last week, we shared a conversation about this specific topic. He offered that "introductions are vital, and a sign of respect. When someone new is in the presence of an Elder, it is important that the Elder does not have to guess who that person is and why they are in community. Share who you are, where you are from, and why you are there." Talk a bit about yourself, make a connection, and seek a common bond.
When I arrived at the Comox airport, both of the women were there and waiting. We boarded the helicopter, and took in the stunning forty minute flight into community. I was setting up in the school, and got busy with the unloading of my cargo and setting up of my portable dental clinic. I observed the clinicians making their way along the platform to the health center, gifts in hand, and sent them all the good vibes. Once my clinic was set up, I headed over to say my hello’s, and the staff there were already buzzing about the gifts on the table: brownies, cookies, and garlic from their garden. At lunchtime we all gathered together and enjoyed a meal and the accompanying treats. It was such a lovely way to connect and establish a meaningful relationship. I was so happy to witness the sparks of a positive relationship unfolding, and the interactions reaffirmed the importance of visiting a community with a bit of foundational knowledge and understanding. I want to extend my gratitude to George and Len, and all the Mentors who help to light the path for those seeking guidance and understanding. I appreciate your support very, very much.
In learning, Kim at Culturally Committed