SPOTLIGHT ON CARE

Indigenous-led Sharing Circles can help foster health


THERE are many paths to healing and wellness, and often, it is a client or family member’s experience that helps St. Joseph’s Care Group (SJCG) enhance care for body, mind and spirit. Sharing Circles at SJCG are an example of how identifying a need and sharing an idea led to a more welcoming and inclusive environment.

Sharing Circles are a traditional Indigenous practice.

“A Sharing Circle is about coming together. It’s meant to bring relief. It’s supposed to bring joy, love, and courage in our hearts,” says Fuzzy Bannon, a resident of Bethammi Nursing Home and a member of the Fort William First Nation.

Bannon learned these teachings many years ago from an Elder he encountered while studying at the Anishinawbe Spiritual Centre. During his later work with young people at a drop-in youth centre in one of Winnipeg’s rougher neighbourhoods, Bannon started to do Sharing Circles every night to help the youth process some of the violence and instability around them.

Bannon knew that residents of long-term care would benefit from Sharing Circles, and he shared that thought with Steve Robertson, a Spiritual Care Associate with SJCG. Together, they came up with a plan to offer Sharing Circles, first at Bethammi Nursing Home and then Hogarth Riverview Manor with Bannon as the lead. Over the past few years, a number of Sharing Circles have been held, and the response of residents could not be better.

According to Bannon, “People always want to come back. They always say, ‘what’s next?’ They’re asking questions and participating.”

St. Joseph’s Hospital also has a Sharing Circle that meets monthly on Wednesday evenings from September to June.

Luke Sagutch, an Elder and member of Neskatanga First Nation, struggled with despondency and feeling disconnected while staying in hospital. After listening to an insistent inner voice that urged him to talk to fellow patients and staff, he says that he felt like he had become reawakened.

He met with Gioia Seerveld, a Spiritual Care Specialist at St. Joseph’s Hospital, who told him about upcoming drum circles on the hospital grounds.

“I did some drumming and singing, but there was no teaching being passed on - there was no one to say ‘this is what we’re singing about,’ or someone to tell a story, and I didn’t want that to happen,” says Sagutch. He shared his thoughts with Seerveld, and asked if the hospital could have a Sharing Circle and the idea took hold.Ê

For the past two years, Sagutch has led monthly Sharing Circles at St. Joseph’s Hospital between September and June.

Carla Shawayhamaish, SJCG’s Indigenous Culture Health Associate, facilitates the circle along with Sagutch. “Sharing Circles gives Indigenous people an opportunity to share who they are, share their experiences, beliefs, storytelling,” says Shawayhamaish. “It provides a chance to listen, show respect, open hearts to understand and connect with one another. We sit in a circle to bond togetherness and unity in strength.”

At the Sharing Circle at St. Joseph’s Hospital, you are as likely to hear Ojibwa, Oji-Cree or Cree as you are English - with Shawayhamaish translating as necessary.

Being able to speak in their traditional languages is both culturally important and a comforting way for clients, many of whom are from remote communities, to feel welcomed.

“Through the circle, we rebuild our oral tradition and the stories we’ve lost,” noted Shawayhamaish, who is originally from Eabametoong First Nation and grew up near Collins, Ont. She is now learning a lot about the traditional teachings from Sagutch.

“Hearing a story in an Indigenous language just has a bit of a different meaning to it than hearing it in English,” she said.

Sagutch, who was a social worker, learned about traditional healing through independent study. He has seen some powerful physical and emotional breakthroughs as a result of the circle.

“The Sharing Circle is about helping people revive their spirituality,” he said. “It’s open. You can talk about what you want to talk about - your life story or legends or whatever you want to share. We listen to that person. It’s about listening, not just hearing, where the words whoosh right over your head. As an Elder, if I can say something about it I will. Most of the time, the longer they talk about it, they answer their own question and I don’t need to say anything. Sharing experiences is a way of healing one another.”

To learn more about the Sharing Circles at St. Joseph’s Care Group sites, please contact Carla Shawayhamaish, Indigenous Culture Health Associate, at (807) 343-2431 ext. 2523.

Spotlight on Care is a monthly column from St. Joseph’s Care Group exploring various topics in health care. It appears on the Healthstyle page of The Chronicle-Journal on the third Tuesday of each month. Visit www.sjcg.net to find out more about St. Joseph’s Care Group.

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