Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 22: Health (18-24)

Lesa Semmler: Weaving Our Wisdom

February 23, 2024

NationTalk: Mr. Speaker, last week the Department of Health and Social Services hosted the second ever Weaving our Wisdom Gathering, for which 350 wellness leaders, Elders, and knowledge holders from across the Northwest Territories, came together to celebrate and share Indigenous community-driven wellness knowledge.

The gathering featured inspiring guest speakers, workshops, and facilitated discussions on important topics such as; frameworks for total health optimization, the impact of colonization and systemic racism on Indigenous People’s health, practical strategies to heal the wounds of intergenerational trauma, Indigenous models for suicide prevention, climate change’s impacts on wellness, new ideas to develop trauma healing programs for families, and, finally, innovation around the future of Indigenous health, community wellness and land-based healing.

The gathering showcased the resilience of Indigenous Peoples, spotlighting their interconnected knowledge systems that have been sustained and developed across generations. Community wellness participants explored the gathering’s themes of; culture and care, self-recognition and healing, community care and wellness, and land-based healing.

In addition to the main agenda, three specialized programs were crafted for participants who identified as Indigenous youth, Indigenous men, and Elders. The Indigenous Youth wellness program encouraged youth to develop skills and access resources and teachings that will help them take control of their wellness. The Indigenous Men’s wellness program began a conversation which effectively lays out the issues Northern Indigenous men face in accessing healthcare, wellness programming, and healing. The Indigenous Elders’ wellness program uncovered ways to better honour Elders so they can be happy, healthy, and living well in their communities.

The priorities for Indigenous health and wellness identified through this gathering, and through in-depth public engagements in all 33 NWT communities, will form the foundation for the Community Wellness Initiatives and Northern Wellness Agreement with Indigenous Services Canada. The identified priorities will inform the future work of our health and social services system and will also assist a whole-of-government understanding of how the determinants of wellness such as housing, climate change, poverty, early childhood development, education, and self-determination can impact Indigenous Peoples.

Mr. Speaker, to help achieve these goals for the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples in the Northwest Territories, the Government of the Northwest Territories must innovate and design systems that directly address long-standing systemic racism.

I want to thank the Indigenous women and their teams who hosted and organized the Weaving our Wisdom Gathering, for their work in leading this important system assessment and in aiding the development of anti-racism initiatives.

Much of the heavy lifting was done by the Community, Culture and Innovation division and the Cultural Safety and Anti-Racism divisions of the Department of Health and Social Services, who work at the forefront of equity, cultural safety, and anti-racism. They are primarily staffed with Indigenous employees and people of color, and are located not only in Yellowknife, but also in Inuvik, Norman Wells, Fort Good Hope, Fort Simpson, and Fort Smith.

I encourage everyone listening today to check out some of the videos and images from this wonderful event on my Facebook page, it truly was a week to remember.

Mr. Speaker, I am compelled to share the profound impact of attending the feast and drum dance at the end of the Weaving our Wisdom Gathering. Witnessing the vibrance and unity of over 350 wellness leaders, Elders, and knowledge holders from across the Northwest Territories was a powerful and prideful experience for me, and I think for everyone in attendance at the feast and drum dance.

The celebration not only showcased the resilience of Indigenous Peoples but also highlighted the interconnected knowledge systems that have sustained us across generations. It was inspiring to see so many individuals come together to celebrate and share Indigenous wellness, weaving traditional practices into our healthcare system. This gathering has not only set the foundation for future initiatives, but it also reinforces the importance of cultural engagement in pursuit of holistic health for NWT residents.

Mr. Speaker, later today at the appropriate time, I will recognize this outstanding team for their incredible work on the planning and organization of this amazing Gathering.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.