Providing Spiritual Care to Indigenous Patients and Families
by Maryanne Matthews
Spiritual care in a clinical setting can have a profound impact on patients and their families. Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre recognizes the importance of treating the full human being; mind, body and spirit, and offers spiritual care services to anyone who needs it.
Michael Robinson is one of the Hospital’s Spiritual Care Providers who has witnessed the power that spiritual care can have on people throughout their healing journey. Although he offers a variety of spiritual services and consultations to people of different faiths, or no faith, his primary focus is supporting Indigenous patients and their families.
“Helping others is the most rewarding part of my job and I’m always happy to help in any way that I can. I offer guidance to patients of any faith, but as a First Nations man, I specialize in Indigenous spiritual care,” said Robinson. “I think it’s especially comforting for Indigenous patients to find out that I’m also a Pipe and Eagle Whistle Carrier, because they know that means that I come with an understanding and awareness of their needs and concerns. It also helps that I’m always walking around smelling of smudge,” he jokes.
A common tradition among many Indigenous people, smudging involves the burning of one or more sacred medicines gathered from the earth: tobacco, sage, cedar and sweetgrass. It is an important part of the healing process for many patients, families and visitors of our Hospital and is one of the most common requests for service that Robinson receives.
“It’s a cleansing ceremony that can also be described as a different form of prayer, to either God or the Creator,” explains Robinson. “The smudge can help to calm and centre patients and visitors while they are here at the Hospital.”
The Hospital is pleased to offer smudging on a regular basis for anyone who needs it. Scheduled smudging takes place regularly, and can either be performed in the specially ventilated Chapel, or the Spirit Garden located in one of the hospital’s beautifully decorated courtyards.
In addition to the scheduled sessions, personal smudges can also be requested at any time. Robinson does an average of 16 individually requested smudges a week, and notes that people of all backgrounds and cultures are welcome to participate. He also offers a number of “smokeless” alternatives in order to accommodate patients with special circumstances or mobility limitations.
Through his work, Michael is helping to grow a culture of awareness and understanding of Indigenous health within the Hospital. He hopes that as people become more aware of his position and all that he can offer, people will become more comfortable requesting his services.
Anyone interested in learning more about smudging, how to access it, or other components of Indigenous culture and spirituality are welcome to contact Michael at the Spiritual Care office by calling 807-684-6235.
Sage Donations Welcome
Some sage is grown in the Hospital’s Spirit Garden, however it is not nearly enough to keep up with ever increasing demand. Because smudging can be such an important aspect of healing, we are looking to members of our community for help. Anyone who would be able to contribute gifts of sage are encouraged to bring it to the Hospital’s Spiritual Care department, or to the Information Desk at the Hospital’s main entrance. The sage doesn’t have to be on the stem, but the leaves must be whole.