Bridging The Gap Between Community And Care With The Wildflower, Women of Turtle Island Drum Group

A chance encounter between Carol Kellman, Aboriginal Nurse Practice Lead, and a patient with a broken ankle several years ago has spawned a partnership between Providence Health Care and Battered Women’s Support Services that has resulted in better support and more culturally safe care for Aboriginal patients at St. Paul’s Hospital.

IMG_4756“I met a patient here named Brandy Kane when she had fractured her ankle, and we became friends,” Carol recalls. “She said, ‘I’d really like you to come and be a collaborator with Battered Women’s Support Services. Can you sing and drum?’ And I said, ‘I carry a few songs but I’m really shy about singing, it’s not something that I do all the time.’”

With Brandy’s encouragement, Carol began attending the weekly Thursday drum group sessions, held at Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), and saw the opportunity to create linkages between participants and the services provided at Providence.

“It’s about creating trust. And raising the profile of the hospital so we’re seen as a hospital that’s friendly to Aboriginal people, and that has Aboriginal services embedded in the work, as well as access to support and advocacy.”

IMG_4757For Carol, the partnership has become a cross-referral community outreach program, where she’s able to accompany patients who are ready and interested to the drum group. Once there, they can choose to participate in the group and access other services offered by BWSS.

“When I first started attending the drum group there were probably 3 or 4 of us, and now there are 10. Some of the women have accessed services through St. Paul’s at one time or another, so they know that I’m here to support them if they have health concerns or follow-up appointments,” says Carol.

As the Wildflower, Women of Turtle Island Drum Group has grown, the Aboriginal Health Team has been able to showcase the women’s drumming at a number of events both in and out of the hospital, including opening Eating Disorders conference, Canac, nursing conference, mental health and additions conference, the Positive Women’s Network retreat and welcoming Maori health executives during a visit to St. Paul’s earlier this year.

The Tuesday Night Talking Circle, held weekly in the Sacred Space at St. Paul’s Hospital, has also benefitted from the participation of women from the group who come to sing, drum and support the patients. As a result, some of the Tuesday patients who had previously been shy about participating in songs have blossomed and become more active and vocal in the group.

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The hope of the Aboriginal Health Team is that St. Paul’s will soon have a contingency of women singers who will be able to go to the bedside as requested by patients and community members.

“One of the most sacred things that we have are our songs, because they have so many meanings,” says Carol. “Each woman in that group carries a song. So when we’re at a gathering, it’s their job to explain the meaning of the song, and how that song came to the group and what the intention is behind the song. So it instills pride and it also shows non-indigenous people the depth and breadth of the culture, and the strength and resiliency of the women.”