Woman Warriors Newsletter

Yellowknife Community Members Wish Healthcare Providers Would…

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Testimonials About Our Digital Health Stories

Dr. Komarnisky is the author of the following books:
– Mexicans in Alaska: An Ethnography of Mobility, Place, and Transnational Life.
– Co-author of 150 Acts of Reconciliation (with Crystal Fraser).

Yellowknife Community Members Wish Healthcare Providers Would… 

The “I WISH” Tree. The concept of this tree was to bridge the gaps between community members and health care service providers in the realm of reconciliation in health, cultural safety in the health care system, and closing the gaps in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Attendees completed the sentence “I wish health care service providers….”. and hung their leaves on the trees. I will include the responses on the leaves in my research paper.
Legacy Premiere
There were approximately fifty-five people in attendance from a variety of backgrounds including the Government of the Northwest Territories, healthcare professionals, education leaders and students and Indigenous activists, artists, and Elders.

Digital health stories have the potential to initiate community dialogue about issues that are concerning to the participants and the audience (Rieger, et.al. 2018). These digital health stories opened space for conversations about reconciliation in healthcare. Audience members at the Legacy event, which consisted of healthcare professionals, academics, post secondary students, government employees, non-profit executive directors, City of Yellowknife employees and Indigenous artists, healers, and Elders were asked to fill out a leaf for the “I Wish” Tree. They completed the sentence, “I wish health care providers would…” and hung their leaves on an ornamental tree. This tree was representative of community connection and “growing” our ideas together to close the gaps in health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Furthermore, it is my intention to share the themes of the I Wish tree with health care professional when I screen the stories at various events (see Table 1). Sharing this community feedback may decrease the time between knowledge generation and knowledge implementation by directly sharing grassroots ideas with healthcare professionals (Rieger, et.al. 2018).

Table 1: I Wish Tree Community Member Responses 

Engage in deep listening (Please see previous newsletter, Presentations at AIM-HI & the Internal Medicine Retreat for how to be a responsible listener).

  • Had more time per patient to simply listen. 
  • Stop rushing and LISTEN.
  • Listening and asking what is important to you?
  • Engaged in active and respectful listening.
  • Create the time and space for listening and being willing to talk about multiple issues and recognize complexity and interconnectedness.
  • Always listen first (really listen and learn and listen some more).
  • Engaged in active and respectful listening.
  • Listen and check their prejudices and discrimination at the door.
  • Listen with patience and humility/not impatience and judgment.  

Practice cultural competency & cultural safety
(Further info: GNWT Caring For Our People: Cultural Safety Action Plan 2018-2020).

  • Take cultural competency training as part of their formal education.
  • Take the initiative to become more aware of health inequities with Indigenous populations and take the time and effort to provide culturally safe care.
  • Educate themselves about cultural diversity. Listen. Provide holistic care.
  • To have the time as part of their workday to reflect on their responsibilities in cultural competency and develop specific methods and actions to achieve a culturally competent health system.
  • Care from a place of understanding rather than from a place of assumptions and bias.
  • Understand our cultural difference. Show more respect to our Elders.
  • Greet First Nations in their languages. To question their own learned perceptions. To prioritize Elders coming into the healthcare.
  • Spend time learning about the settler/colonial history to better understand the context of those who experienced it and were impacted by it. And then to hold up a mirror to themselves and explore their own relationship to power and privilege. How does that show up in their health provision?

Practice values of patience, humility, respect, reciprocity & relationships (Further info: Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being).

  • Treat all patients with respect and dignity.
  • Treat all people with respect and equally.
  • Have humility and practice reciprocity when planning a person’s care and include person in decisions.
  • Begin to understand that wellness and healing journey is a partnership!
  • To ask everyone how they can respect their culture. What practices they may do?

View health as holistic (Further info: First Nations Perspectives on Health and Wellness).

  • Understand that health care is more than about physical health.

Understand health in relation to the social determinants of health (Further info: Health Inequalities and Social Determinants of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health).

  • Universal access to free medication for anyone who identifies as Indigenous, especially for children. Priority given to Indigenous peoples for a regular family doctor over other people living in Yellowknife and fix the lack of family doctors. Offer evidence based approaches for increased access to all (i.e) advanced access.
  • See Indigenous women as whole women: multifaceted, resilient, dignified contributors to our society. To see health challenges as social barriers as mostly being a “function” of systemic violence and discrimination.

Build long-term relationships (Further info: Access to health services as a social determinant of First Nations, Inuit and Metis Health).

  • Specifically for smaller Indigenous communities that don’t have regular access to doctors and nurses to build long-term relationships with communities. 

Increase Indigenous healthcare professionals (Further info: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Call to Action #23).

  • Looked visibly Indigenous…like me!

The Legacy event allowed Indigenous women the ability to showcase their resilience and strength and shift mainstream stereotypes and deficit-based stories towards asset-based stories about their health, communities, and culture. These digital stories allow healthcare professionals to better understand Indigenous women’s unique lived experiences and elicit cultural perspectives with respect to health issues, diagnosis, and treatments. A community member from the Legacy event stated the she would be better able to respond to her Indigenous clients needs in, “ways that are more meaningful and truly supportive” (email correspondence). Furthermore, it directed me to focus my presentations to health care professionals on the seven themes I coded from the data (Table 1). An important feature of Indigenous research, as discussed by Métis academic, Gaudry (as cited in Strega & Brown, 2015) is to be action-oriented and “produce a better life for community members, study participants, and Indigenous peoples in general” (p. 257). Using the I Wish Tree for community engagement allowed for “Indigenous mobilization and created a new space for Indigenous empowerment” (Gaudry, as cited in Strega & Brown, 2015, p. 257).

Furthermore, the I Wish Tree is inclusive of all community members because the medium of art – writing/drawing on the leaves and hanging them on the tree – is a less intimidating way to gather feedback than a traditional survey. My research experience with Women Warriors has made me aware of literacy levels when working with community and the fact that paperwork can be intimidating. Moreover, as an Indigenous researcher I am aware of the burden placed on Indigenous peoples to educate non-Indigenous peoples about reconciliation, and our cultures and community practices. I make a conscious effort to never target Indigenous people to share their opinions or fill out surveys at events. How we gather data matters, especially when Indigenous communities are involved. I believe it is unethical to hand out surveys to all community members at the end of presentations and gather them in public viewing. The I Wish Tree was a voluntary activity and the audience had agency including how they wanted to write their responses and anonymity in hanging the leaves.

If you are interested in learning more about my digital storytelling research or have any questions please contact email me: Shelley@womenwarriors.club. Thank you.


Rieger, K., West, C., Kenny, A., Chooniedass, R., Demczuk, L., Mitchell, K., Scott, S.(2018). Digital storytelling as a method in health research: a systematic review protocol. Systematic Reviews, (1), 1. https://0-doi- org.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/10.1186/s13643-018-0704-y.

Strega, S., & Brown, L. (2015). Research as Resistance: Critical, Indigenous and Anti-oppressive Approaches (2ndEdition). Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.

I would like to thank Flowers North, an Indigenous owned and operated business located in Yellowknife Centre for their amazing work creating the I Wish Tree.

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

digital storytelling panel
The digital storytelling panel included prescreened questions about the legacy of residential school, the process of digital storytelling and what constitutes “good health” from the perspectives of each participants’ culture including Metis, Cree, Dene, Tlicho and Inuit (l to r): Shelley as moderator, Maxine, Beatrice, Sheryl, Dorothy & Tanya.

I have been invited by the the Government of the Northwest Territories, Department of Health to share our digital health stories and research findings to primary healthcare providers in Yellowknife, NT on Wednesday November 13th.This two day training session is part of their Cultural Safety Action Plan pilot. Two of our digital storytelling co-creators, Maxine (via FaceTime) and Tanya (in-person) will be speaking with the primary care providers about their experience creating their digital health stories and advocating for reconciliation in healthcare.