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New clinic breaks barriers 

NDG mayor Gracia Kasoki Katahwa, minister responsible for relations with First Nations and Inuit Ian Lafrenière, Native Montreal executive director Philippe Meilleur, Executive Director of the Regroupement des centres d'amitié autochtones du Québec (RCAAQ) Tanya Sirois, Quebec's health minister Christian Dubé, and others on the clinic’s opening day. Nanor Froundjian The Eastern Door

Native Montreal reached a long-awaited milestone last week as it celebrated, along with its partners, the opening of the first culturally safe family health clinic in the Montreal area, coinciding with the organization’s 10-year anniversary.  

“We’re paving the way for a new model,” said Philippe Meilleur, executive director at Native Montreal, adding the provincial health care system isn’t in the habit of working side by side with nonprofits. 

“Our clinic represents much more than a healthcare service point; it is part of a global, holistic approach that lies at the heart of our mission,” he said. 

In collaboration between the Health and Social Services Center of South-Central Montreal, University Clinic of Family Medicine (GMFU) of Verdun, the University of Montreal Hospital Center (CHUM), and the provincial government, the clinic will focus on delivering culturally adapted services, making sure to respond to the specific needs within the city’s Indigenous population, a key aspect of the project. 

“We can’t forget the Indigenous urban population,” said Kahnawa’kehró:non Tom Dearhouse, who also spoke at the press conference last Friday to give the opening address. Dearhouse will be leading private or group sessions in the clinic’s cedar room twice a month. 

The new clinic follows the principles of the Two-Row Wampum, he said, with pillars of collaboration, peace, mutual respect, and tekanonhkwa’tsherané:ken – with two medicines working side by side, referring to western and traditional medicine. 

Tom Dearhouse in the clinic’s cedar room.  

Ian Lafrenière, the minister responsible for relations with the First Nations and the Inuit, echoed Dearhouse’s sentiment on the importance of collaboration.  

“This is a strong message, and this is the kind of message I’ve been bringing to all the communities: let’s work together,” said Lafrenière. 

“I see a lot of willingness, a lot of virtue, and people want to hear more.” He added that a project like this one is helping close the knowledge gap in healthcare.  

More than half of the province’s First Nations and Inuit populations live in an urban setting rather than their home communities, he noted. 

Clients will be supported by a medical team with family doctors and nurses coming from the GMF-U of Verdun, the primary partner of the clinic, which is located at 3187 St. Jacques Street, suite 101. 

They will work hand in hand with the clinic’s personnel to help clients navigate health services and connect clients with other health institutions, follow them throughout the entire process, and even accompany them to appointments if needed.  

This collaboration will give way for the development of culturally safe healthcare expertise, said Meilleur. 

“Together, they will be able to provide health exams, follow-ups for chronic diseases, or sampling all under one roof, thus breaking certain logistical barriers in the healthcare trajectory,” Meilleur said.  

A key element of this clinic lies in its operation with the principle of proximity, in line with the improvement Quebec’s health minister Christian Dubé envisions for front-line services across the province.  

“I think that the concept of cultural safety, to respect the holistic element for an Indigenous person … if it’s done on top of that in conjunction with the cultural needs, I think that sets up a great example within the Indigenous population for what I’d like to see from our front-line services across the board.” 

The clinic’s cedar room, which will give clients a chance to reconnect with traditional practices, is one example of cultural alignment.  

“That’s our goal, to create a safe space to talk,” said Dearhouse on the importance of accessible culturally safe spaces. “There’s a need for that.” 

The clinic is decorated with Indigenous artwork that was commissioned specifically for the space, bringing a touch of warmth and familiarity. At the entrance is a basket with pouches containing a seashell and sacred medicine for smudging, a small gift clinic coordinator Megan Leinen, who is Mi’kmaq from Listuguj, carefully put together by hand. 

“It was a big labour of love,” she said about the 10 months it took to transform the space into the clinic it is today.  

“It’s finally time that we have a space where we can acknowledge traditional services incorporated with medical services that we offer in the city and the space where that happens without needing to explain,” she said. “It’s a really incredible way to start rebuilding trust in the urban community.” 

nanor.fr@gmail.com 

This article was originally published in print on April 19 in issue 33.16 of The Eastern Door.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.