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Committed to respecting Indigenous traditions
Waypoint committed to respecting Indigenous traditions
Posted on 06/03/2024

Glenn Roitaille and Austin Mixemong When Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care offered the first sweat lodge ceremony for a patient in an Ontario mental health hospital, it signalled respect for centuries-old traditions.

Seven years later, that attitude continues to permeate the hospital, which provides specialized mental health, addiction and geriatric care to some of the most complex and disadvantaged people in Ontario. It is also the sole provider of high-secure forensic mental health services in the province.

“Our team is deeply committed to supporting the cultural traditions of all of our patients as they move through their recovery journey,” said Glenn Robitaille, Director, Ethics and Spiritual Care. “Waypoint serves the entire province, so patients may come from every demographic.”

In 2004, Waypoint created a part-time position called Co-ordinator of Aboriginal and Spiritual Services. It eventually became a full-time job with the title Indigenous Healer, which is equivalent in classification to a Clinical Multi-Faith Chaplain. According to Robitaille, this was a first for a mental health hospital anywhere in Canada.

“We had seven Indigenous communities within our catchment area, with very little reach into those communities,” he recalled. “It started out small, but there was direct impact right away on our Indigenous patients.”

Austin Mixemong can attest to that. The Traditional Healer at Waypoint is a Third Degree Midewiwin, or traditional knowledge keeper, from nearby Beausoleil First Nation. Sitting in the hospital’s Spiritual Centre to discuss his work, the medicine wheel on the carpet and the traditional paintings on the walls offer further confirmation that Waypoint has embraced Indigenous culture.

Mixemong works mostly with Indigenous patients, but also with those who can be described broadly as having an Earth-based spirituality. He meets them in all areas of the hospital, engaging them in conversation, listening to their concerns and trying to address their needs.

“When an Indigenous person comes here and sees me, they say, ‘Oh, it’s so nice to see somebody that’s native here.’ It has such an impact,” he said. “I’m trying to help my people — my brothers and sisters and all First Nations peoples — to find that healthy lifestyle.”

These efforts are shining examples of the Waypoint values of caring and respect, which include striving to embed principles of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) throughout the organization. The focus is on addressing intersectional forms of racism, discrimination and inequities while promoting an inclusive culture, eliminating barriers to access and advancement, and providing a safe and supportive environment for all members of the team.

The hospital’s EDI plan for 2024-25 will support this goal by collecting EDI-related data to enhance planning for person-centred care, offering training in Indigenous cultural safety and anti-Black racism, updating recruiting practices, reviewing language in policies and procedures, and maintaining relationships with community organizations representing groups facing inequities.

Waypoint has also partnered with the Barrie Area Native Advisory Council, B’saanibamaadsiwin Aboriginal Mental Health, Enaahtig Healing Lodge and Learning Centre, and other local organizations to form the Indigenous Health Circle. Four times a year, representatives meet to work on issues of common concern.