Actions and Commitments

Health (18-24)

This is what reconciliation looks like and it’s the Churchill Health Centre

February 19, 2024

The health centre in Churchill, Man., is the community’s heart and soul, and some say it’s the reason the community has had no suicides in a generation. No youth suicides or opioid abuse challenges. For an isolated town in the West and the Prairies, this is so unique. But there’s more.  

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew, pictured with his family and supporters after winning the province’s election on Oct. 3, 2023, is expected to visit Churchill, Man., writes Rose LeMay. Photograph courtesy of X/Twitter 

NationTalk: The Hill Times – OTTAWA—On the north end of the province of Manitoba on the mighty Churchill River sits Churchill, a small town that doesn’t quite fit in the province that reconciliation almost forgot. Named after some duke who was never there, the land is the traditional territory of Dené and Cree, and Inuit seemed to pass through from time to time as well. As with many places on rivers, there was a Hudson’s Bay trading fort at one time, the only one on the Hudson’s Bay. Continuing in the trading economy, a huge train terminal was built in the 1920s to ship grain. The town used to have a population numbering in the thousands when the military base was operating. The base had a cover story: to test the atmosphere with rockets, nudge nudge wink wink. 

But when the military left in the 1960s, they destroyed all the military housing and structures. The deal was the military had to build the town something if they were going to remove all those buildings. So the military built the town complex. 

Picture this: a 250-seat theatre, salt-water pool, gym, hockey rink, library, curling rink, early childhood space, and meeting space all in one complex, and a health centre connected to it. It’s the heart and soul of the community.  

Some attribute this resource to the fact that this community has experienced no suicides in a generation. No youth suicides. No opioid abuse challenges. For an isolated town in the West and Prairies, this is so unique. Seriously, there is no small town that can say the same. But there’s more. 

Half of the town’s population are settlers, half are First Nations, Inuit and Métis. It’s rare to have all three Indigenous groups living together in the same place; there’s one or two places in the Northwest Territories like this. Here’s where things start to become even more noteworthy: there’s a sense of community between Indigenous families and settlers. They are actually doing reconciliation.  

The health centre has a staff of 130, and serves as a hub for the surrounding region with 24-hour emergency care, acute care, and rehabilitation, and a long-term care home is being built. Every employee position in the health centre is filled, and it has been this way since early 2020. No other health clinic or hospital can claim this win. Almost every other health organization in Canada is facing massive turnover with vacancies in the 15 per cent to 20 per cent range. 

And half of the health centre staff are Indigenous. Half of the management team is Indigenous. This is what reconciliation looks like: full Indigenous inclusion including in leadership. For anybody doubting if it can be done, the Churchill Health Centre proves it.  

Maybe it’s the strong Indigenous voice within the planning of this health centre that has created the strongest health promotion and community well-being plan that I’ve ever seen. Indigenous knowledge about health is really health promotion and community development. The mantra is, “if somebody needs the emergency room, we’ve failed.” Instead, the health centre runs countless programs and networks in the community and region to create relationships, networks of safety, health promotion, and support.  Can you imagine that: a hospital saying if you come to the emergency room then we’ve failed. 

This is what reconciliation looks like: a sense of belonging and community together. Tourists who make the effort to get to know the locals—and not all do that—routinely say this is such a warm and welcoming community. 

It’s rare in Manitoba, a place that recently wouldn’t even search for the bodies of MMIWG. Reconciliation barely made a dent in this place until recently, and rumours are that Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew is planning to visit Churchill soon.  

I asked people why they work so well together and why they support each other. People looked at me strangely, and I suspect they wondered, ‘why would you not?’  

Rose LeMay is Tlingit from the West Coast and the CEO of the Indigenous Reconciliation Group. She writes twice a month about Indigenous inclusion and reconciliation. In Tlingit worldview, the stories are the knowledge system, sometimes told through myth and sometimes contradicting the myths told by others. But always with at least some truth.