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Tim and Aimee

OT Student Attends Indigenous Cultural Medicine Workshop

In the fall of 2018, I had the opportunity to participate in a Kairos blanket exercise facilitated by Vanessa McCourt from Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre (Kairos at Queen's). This participatory and experiential learning – about the history of colonization and its impact on Indigenous Peoples’ across Canada – was unlike anything I had been exposed to before. It brought to life the lived experiences of all those affected, while highlighting the importance of acknowledging past harms in repairing future relationships. It was interesting to hear the reflections of my classmates during the activity debrief, many of whom had never learned much of this history.  Consequently, it was apparent how important this experience was for students within the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS), and I left that day thinking about how to better prepare myself and my classmates, as future health care professionals, to be able to meet the unique needs of Indigenous patients and their families.    

A quick internet search led me to learn of the school’s Truth and Reconciliation Task Force Committee Report (Queen's TRC Report) and I was excited to see that Queen’s had made a school-wide commitment to reconciliation and the decolonization of curriculums.  One of the recommendations of the Task Force was the creation of an Office of Indigenous Initiatives (OII) to facilitate and coordinate the implementation of TRC recommendations around campus.  After requesting consultation on planning and implementing a cultural competency workshop, the OII connected me with Tim Yearington (Grey Thunderbird), an Algonquin-Métis Knowledge Keeper who agreed to facilitate a workshop on the Medicine Wheel teachings and Indigenous Cultural Practices.    

In the Occupational Therapy (OT) program, the workshop has since been named Indigenous Medicine Ways and You and explores how the Medicine Wheel model can be used as a foundation for health and wellness, applicable not only to enhancing cultural safety for Indigenous patients but also as a personal tool for health care providers and healers.  A teaching of Tim’s that resonated with me from our first circle was "you have to tend to the fire inside of you first, before you can help tend to the fire of someone else"; an important reminder that as health care professionals, leading by example and taking care of self are pivotal in providing quality patient care.   

Tim incorporates storytelling and cultural materials throughout his teachings to illustrate the concepts of the Medicine Wheel and its origins.  He provides historical context, talks about the effects of racism in Canada and outlines a framework that incorporates a global perspective. In essence, this workshop is a way for people to directly experience and participate in traditional Indigenous (Anishinaabeg/Algonquin) Knowledge. It is intended to be “welcoming to everyone from all walks of life as an open door to having meaningful dialogue and creating relationships”.  Feedback from students who have attended has been that the experience was grounding and insightful, and left them motivated to learn more and do better - “This workshop was a fantastic resource for those of us who will work with Indigenous populations in the future. The teachings of the Medicine Wheel are very applicable to OT practice and provide a great way to think about health holistically” (Emily Weatherbed, OT’ 19).    

In March 2019, Tim transitioned into a new role at the University.  He is now the Coordinator of Indigenous Curricular Innovation in the FHS and, as such, is tasked with increasing access and exposure to Indigenous content within the three associated schools.  In this new role he will be able to devote more time to facilitating similar workshops for students in other programs, as well as for faculty, with the plan to make Indigenous Medicine Ways and You a regular part of the curriculum in the future.

In many ways meeting Tim and seeking his help to guide my learning has felt serendipitous, as the momentum of the Queen’s TRC Task Force’s work made the connection possible and, perhaps, inevitable.  I feel grateful to have had the chance to learn from Tim, who is an empowering teacher, and I encourage all students and faculty to take advantage of opportunities to do the same.  As a healthcare provider of any kind, seeking out knowledge on Indigenous healing practices is a responsibility in providing better care for Indigenous people.    

Aimee Berard
MSc Occupational Therapy Candidate '20
Rehab Therapy Student Society President 
School of Rehabilitation Therapy | Queen's University    

Written in collaboration with  
Tim Yearington  
Métis-Algonquin Knowledge Keeper
Indigenous Curricular Innovation Coordinator
Faculty of Health Sciences | Queen's University   

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