De dwa da dehs nye>s bringing Indigenous ways of thinking and health together

BRANTFORD – There is little in the world that is more important than our health. While all health agencies strive to ensure that the services being provided are meeting the needs of their target population, De dwa da dehs nye>s has the unique challenge of doing so while also honouring and respecting Indigenous ways of thinking and service provision. It is engrained in the motto of the organization, “We are taking care of each other amongst ourselves.”

Over the last few years there has been renewed attention paid to the health of the Indigenous population in Canada. De dwa da dehs nye>s has worked diligently to respond the these needs in a “holistic” way, as Board of Directors Chairperson Pat Mandy explains it. The organization offers a wide range of both preventative and primary healthcare services, from clinical, to mental health, to health promotion, and traditional healing as well. The thinking underscoring this method of service delivery addresses not just physical health but the mental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural aspects as well.

Wellness isn’t just being free of illness; it’s about having the conditions in place that allow people to live a healthy lifestyle. Things such as a person’s income, education level, and housing situation can affect their state of wellness. The health centre places special emphasis on coordination and cooperation with other agencies in order to address what is referred to as the social determinates of health. That cooperation allows patients and clients to help resolve other things in their lives that can help them lead healthier lives.

It’s a method of healthcare delivery that seems to be working for all of those involved, from the patients to the doctors and nurses themselves. Constance McKnight, Executive Director of the centre, is proud of the low turnover rate of staff, who really enjoy working at the centre. Having long-term staff also serves the clients and patients well as they get to interact with the same people, making for much smoother visits and appointments.

De dwa da dehs nye>s has recently embarked a new program that both Mandy and McKnight are particularly proud of, the Aboriginal Patient Navigator (APN). The health care system in Canada can be confusing, this program provides a worker who helps self-identified Indigenous people navigate the system through the coordination of services, the eliminations of barriers, follow-ups and referrals.

For Mandy, “It’s not just talking the talk, but walking the talk.” That means working to ensure that the organizational culture reflects the Indigenous cultures and ways of being. Patients are free to choose if they wish to receive Traditional healing or “western” medicine, or a combination of both. The centre is governed by a 9 person board, 7 of whom identify as Indigenous, and the staff is mostly composed of Indigenous people as well. The goal however is to have 100% of the staff and board be Indigenous peoples within 5 years. Mandy also explains that the Board has adopted the 7 Grandfather Teachings as the values of the organization.

The staff and board at De dwa da dehs nye>s work hard every day to provide vital services to the Indigenous populations of Brantford, Hamilton, and Niagara. “We really do try to go the extra mile,” says McKnight. In the fall the centre will be hosting focus groups in the community to gather feedback and work to address any gaps in service.

Those who are interested in accessing the services of De dwa da dehs nye>s, including the new APN program, are encouraged to get in touch with the centre, as they are currently accepting clients and patients. Anyone who self-identifies as Indigenous is eligible. They can be reached in Brantford at 519-752-4340 and in Hamilton at 905-544-4320. As McKnight says, with a smile, “It’s an absolutely amazing place to be.”

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