Sun and ceremonial fire warmed everyone at the groundbreaking for a new wellness centre in Skidegate last Thursday.
When it opens next summer, the 9,400-square-foot centre will face the ocean in the tradition of a Skidegate longhouse, but its windows will look out from a tsunami-safe spot high above the current Skidegate Health Centre on Second Avenue.
Run by the new XaaydaGa Dlaang Society, the centre will also move to a new healthcare approach inspired by Haida tradition and the Southcentral Foundation — a native-run health service in neighbouring Alaska that has had great success promoting early and ongoing care.
“I think it’s been time to look at different ways to get our people well,” said Billy Yovanovich, chief councillor for the Skidegate Band Council, who worked a golden shovel at the clearing alongside Waneeta Richardson, a local co-ordinator with the First Nations Health Authority (FHNA) and Isabel Brillon, an elder and board member with XaaydaGa Dlaang.
Yovanovich noted that the centre’s $6-million budget is the largest granted by the FHNA anywhere in B.C., which he said was a testament to the hard work done by everyone involved, from staff such as health director Lauren Brown to elected leaders such as SBC councillor and capital manager David Crosby. A construction contract will go to tender in April, with the year-long work expected to start around June.
Chief Wigaanad, Sidney G. Crosby, thanked the XaaydaGa Dlaang Society for being brave enough to manage the centre on its own, which had historically been the responsibility of the band council.
“I think that’s the start of all of this, right here,” he said.
“It’s not just one team, or one clan, or one family — it’s everybody,” he added. “We all work together here, and it’s just amazing what goes on in our little community.”
Health Director Lauren Brown said in the new centre, programs will no longer be siloed into small offices, but run in more open spaces where staff work in teams. Unlike a hospital, people will be encouraged to visit the centre for ongoing care, not only when they are sick, and also to involve family.
“We’re going to focus on moving from that individual healthcare/sickness model to let’s look at the family as a whole,” she said.
“The family can work together to get an individual healthy.”
With 36 staff and growing programs, the existing Skidegate Health Centre is beginning to outgrow its current space. Along with the youth centre, it offers primary-care clinics, home support, maternal and child health, dietitian services, a dental clinic, mental health counselling, and visits by specialists such as optometrists, audiologists, and naturopaths.
Robert Russ, another board director with XaaydaGa Dlaang, said that is a far cry from where the health centre started — with just two staff working in the green trailer by the community hall.
After an extensive talks with community members and the FHNA, Russ said the top priorities for the centre are to expand mental health and elders’ services, to expand visiting clinical services, and to expand Haida traditional healing and wellness programs.
Once the wellness centre is built, there will still be room on the two-hectare clearing for what community leaders hope will be the next project — an elders’ home.
“We’re going to need that for sure,” said Lauren Brown, adding that a elders’ needs study is currently being done by the FHNA, Northern Health Authority, and the Old Massett and Skidegate band councils.
Isabel Brillon, a Haida elder who can hardly believe she’s 76, says she looks forward to the elders’ house, especially after living by the ocean and having to roll out of bed for several early-morning tsunami and earthquake warnings in recent years.
“I’ll be the first name on the list, she said, laughing.
“I can sleep through a tsunami!”