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Gathering Place at Women's College Hospital to highlight Indigenous perspectives on healing

From left to right: Rosary Spence, Selena Mills, Chase McMurren, Kateri Gauthier and Lisa Richardson (photo courtesy of Temerty Faculty of Medicine)

A new Gathering Place for learners, faculty and staff in the health professions to learn about and honour Indigenous perspectives of well-being and healing is now officially open at Women’s College Hospital.

The Gathering Place, which was the subject of a virtual tour and welcoming ceremony on Nov. 17, is a partnership between the Temerty Faculty of Medicine’s Office of Indigenous Health at the University of Toronto and the Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health at Women’s College.

As part of the celebration, Lisa Richardson, vice-chair, culture and inclusion in the department of medicine, and Chase McMurren, Indigenous medical education theme lead for the MD program, were joined by Temerty Faculty of Medicine Dean Trevor Young and Women’s College Hospital President and CEO Heather McPherson.

“This is not just a physical space,” said Richardson, who is also the strategic lead in Indigenous health for the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Women’s College Hospital. “The idea of having smudging, smelling sweetgrass and sage and hearing the drum song that represents the heartbeats of our mothers is an act of decolonizing a space and an institution. It’s also about creating figurative space in these institutions, which have been so unwelcoming.

“It is about a place where Indigenous Peoples can come and feel safe and at peace, valued, loved and respected and where Indigeneity is uplifted and celebrated.”

The Gathering Place aims to help the experience for Indigenous learners by providing a culturally safe space to come together, socialize and study.

Elders, knowledge keepers, educators and community supports will be available to engage ceremonial practices, provide access to traditional medicines and facilitate educational and community-centred activities such as healing, counselling, workshops and symposiums.

The Gathering Place will also host learner and faculty meetings, talking circles and academic activities.

“Let’s consider how we can all create more safety for Indigenous Peoples to come forward and be welcome to share their gifts and sacred medicines with one another and with all of us,” said McMurren. “In order to have safety, we all need to have humility and bring as much humble presence as possible, acknowledging that we all have work and healing to do.”

Kawennanoron (Cindy White), Rosary Spence and Kateri Gauthier performed the opening and closing drum and songs, as well as the invocation.

The creation of the Gathering Place is one of the actions the Temerty Faculty of Medicine is taking to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)’s Calls to Action as well as the final report of the Steering Committee for the University of Toronto Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Answering the Call Wecheehetowin.

The official opening was celebrated during U of T’s Indigenous Education week, which ran from Nov. 16 to 20.

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