Ojibwe lessons creating a more welcoming environment

Esther Diabo, certified Native Language instructor, provides cultural teachings as well as Ojibwe language lessons to Hospital staff and volunteers.

Boozhoo. Miigwech. A simple greeting. A few familiar words spoken in your own language. They can go a long way to make you feel more comfortable and at ease when you’re away from home. That’s why Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre offers Ojibwe lessons to staff and volunteers. It’s part of a commitment to enhance a welcoming environment for Indigenous patients and families.

The lessons, delivered by certified Native Language instructor Esther Diabo, provide cultural teachings as well as Ojibwe language.

Georgia Carr, Manager, Laboratory Services, participated in the very first session of Ojibwe classes. “I learned some words to help me communicate better. It shows respect, acceptance and belonging,” she said.

Diabo structures the classes for a health care environment. She aims to help Hospital staff and volunteers to be able to welcome patients and families, introduce themselves, and understand and communicate simple phrases. She also shares teachings through stories, crafts and activities. For example, class participants take part in smudging ceremonies and make their own Dream Catchers.

“I was especially moved by what I learned about residential schools and culture,” Carr said. “Esther was so open about her life stories, and tied them to her culture. I gained such an understanding and appreciation for the historical struggles.”

So far, 34 people have participated in the classes, which are voluntary and provided at no cost to participants. Our Hospital serves all of Northwestern Ontario, which is home to 69 First Nation communities, many of them remote and difficult to access. For many people from remote First Nation communities, a visit to our Hospital can be intimidating, often because of language barriers.

“This knowledge supports us to be more understanding, more welcoming. We are so fortunate that Esther is willing to share and teach,” noted Carr.