Dionne, Aboriginal Peer Coordinator | Staff Feature


Aboriginal Peer Coordinator

Indigenous Talent> Health Science Professionals> Social Work
this story

“I am of Aboriginal ancestry and an intergenerational survivor, so I’ve always had a passion for working with Aboriginal people. Most of my jobs have involved working with the Aboriginal population,” shares Dionne. “My mother went to residential school. I understand and am fully aware of the trauma and impacts that have been put upon Aboriginal people and want to be a part of the change to move forward and continue to heal.

I was born and raised in the Stó:lō territory, where I still reside today. My dad’s family, McGrath, comes from Rosedale, BC. God rest his soul, he passed when I was 14-year-old. I am fortunate to still have my mother in my life today, Purcell (nee Smith), originating from Samahquam Band, St’at’imc Nation, in the Interior Salish area. My descendants are of non-Native and Aboriginal ancestry.

I am proud to say that I am a mother/grandmother to three children and three grandsons. I carry three traditional/ancestral names: Qenis (Killer whale); Ti wa Nukw’ay7lh (Helper of the people) and Thee-al-ew-qwey (Looking after others); and I have been recognized as an Elder: one who shares the wisdom and knowledge with the people.

When it comes to culture and spirituality, this is where I feel like I’m playing catch up with my grandchildren, I never had the opportunity to teach my children, for I started this later in my life. My oldest grandson, who is 8-years-old, and I have been learning my language, Ucwalmicw together. This is something I hold dear to my heart.

In March 2019, I had the honor of joining Fraser Health as an Aboriginal peer coordinator. I work in partnership with people from various programs across Fraser Health and many other stakeholders, such as the First Nations Health AuthorityI focus on the Aboriginal population with lived experience of substance use – promoting the meaningful engagement of peers. One thing that I bring to this position is my knowledge of my culture. I drum and sing, carry out spiritual ceremonies, facilitate healing/talking circles while also holding space for teaching the history of Aboriginal people.

When the opportunity arises, I share my knowledge with others who have clients of Aboriginal ancestry. Aboriginal people have been impacted by past events, such as the residential school era and the Sixty’s Scoop – a time in Canadian history when Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in foster homes or put up for adoption. I feel that having an understanding of this history can help health care and service providers work with Aboriginal people more successfully.”

When is comes to managing her own health, Dionne turns to the ‘medicine wheel’. The medicine wheel has a variety of definitions depending on culture, but is essentially meant to represent the alignment and connection between a person’s spiritual, physical, mental and emotional states.

“With how busy life gets and the many demands that are put on us as helpers, I try to implement the medicine wheel to stay in balance. In order to help others, I need to take care of myself,” she explains. “We are all given a task in this world and it is up to us to fulfill it and be a part of the change.”

Kuchstem (thank you) Dionne for sharing your story.

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