The holistic approach to being a First Nations dietitian

Twelve weeks on a traditional foods diet. Though it sounds challenging it’s exactly what four Haudenosaune participants – three of them from Six Nations – bravely committed to in our first issue of 2015. We have been following them ever since, reporting on their progress in weekly issues of the Two Row Times.

Though their journey has been public, the deeper work with the local participants has been happening in Kelly Gordon’s office in Ohsweken. This is where participants weighed-in, and opened up; identifying their struggles and their strengths. It’s where they received the knowledge and support to continue on the path of wellness.

Gordon is a Registered Dietitian at Six Nations Health Promotions & Nutrition Services. She is also a Kanienkeha’ka mother of two, and a wife. Her role as mother and wife inspires her work she says, teaching her the value of selflessness in relationship building.

Instead of the conventional ways of offering nutrition support – such as having the client fill in forms, or follow a food guide – Gordon has a different way of helping. She simply listens.

She calls it a “mind, body, spirit” approach. Offering services that are based on the client’s true needs and not on organizational targets.

“Often when people come to see me it may be for nutrition based advice, but then I see there are superseding concerns like housing or family issues that are also affecting their well-being”, she explains.

Gordon then steps in to help guide people toward resources; referring clients to a medicine person in the community or one of the many group education workshops she develops – such as the traditional cooking classes she is offering to Ontario Works clients, jointly run by Healthy Lifestyle Coordinator Julee Green, and Traditional Wellness Coordinator Cindy Martin.

Gordon’s love for the Six Nations community and Haudenosaune culture also lead to her involvement in the Healthy Roots Indigenous Wellness Challenge, where she advised on the food plan and offered extensive nutritional counseling for the Six Nations participants.

Understanding what Haudenosaune traditional foods are, how they are produced, and being part of the process is intrinsic to our well-being, Gordon says. “When I heard about the initial plans for Healthy Roots I said – we have to do that. It’s the deeper connectivity to food that will lead to lasting change.”

In addition to Healthy Roots, Gordon reaches out to the community by working with pre-existing facilities to re-think their menus and technique. Gordon teamed up with TRT Food Columnist and Chef Joe Farrell at the Jay Silverheels Inpatient Facility to encourage the use of traditional foods. Together they taught PSW workers the techniques to prepare healthy meals for their residents.

That venture was so popular, Gordon said a patient was feeling troubled about leaving the facility. Gordon said, “I asked her why she was feeling disappointed to be leaving and she said – I am going to miss the food! There’s no preservatives, and we get good quality ingredients made with care.” With stigma surrounding foods at care facilities, Gordon was pleased to receive the feedback.

While much of Gordon’s time as a Registered Dietitian is spent on group education workshops, outreach and partnerships – she is also available for one-to-one nutritional counseling.

Allowing clients a sense of agency and ownership over their well-being is a large part of Gordon’s philosophy, she shares. “Being flexible as healthcare providers is so important to the needs of clients. Letting go of a rigid mentality and having an openness to our approach allows for a greater collaboration between dietitians and community members”.

This collaborative approach leads to trusting relationships with her clients, empowering them on a long-term journey toward holistic well-being. Recently Gordon had a client thank her for the support, saying “You walked beside me the whole time.” A few simple words, encapsulating perfectly what the dietitian’s approach is all about – allowing the client to voice their own priorities, lay their own path, and empowering them with the knowledge to continue on their healing journey.

Community members can self-refer to Health Promotions & Nutrition Services by calling 519-445-2809 to set up an intake appointment.

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