One day this spring, Social Worker Apostolia Petropoulos turned on the radio in the room of one of her residents at the Father Dowd Residential Centre. In an instant, the woman’s eyes opened wide and she flashed a thumbs-up sign.
The response came from the spark of recognition: The online radio station was broadcasting in Inuktitut, the resident’s mother tongue.
Hearing her native language brought comfort and reassurance to the woman, who comes from a remote village on the Hudson Bay coast and is without friends or family in Montreal. Like many Inuit from Quebec’s North who are treated or housed in Montreal, the woman is far from home and without the familiar cultural touchstones of her community.
“I can’t bring her back to her community, but I can bring a bit of her community to her,” Ms. Petropoulos says. “We’re already taking care of her physical and mental needs. I was interested in finding things I could do for her that were culturally significant.”
Ms. Petropoulos’s initiative at Father Dowd is an example of the efforts underway at CIUSSS West-Central Montreal to provide culturally sensitive care to those from Indigenous backgrounds.
And Ms. Petropoulos’s initiative went further. Intent on placing artwork in the woman’s room that reflected her Inuit culture, she teamed up with Shirley Fender, a Montreal-based liaison agent with Inuulitsivik Health and Social Services in Nunavik, who arranged for Inuit teenagers to draw pictures representing their Northern communities; Ms. Fender framed two drawings and they now hang in the resident’s room, facing her bed.
“We wanted to decorate her room in a way that would honour her culture and remind her of home,” says Ms. Fender, who offers support to Inuit in residential care in Montreal.
Inuit living in Northern Quebec must travel to Montreal for major medical interventions, because these services are unavailable in their communities, Ms. Fender explains. She tries to ensure that those who end up in residential care “feel a connection to their culture and don’t get lost.”
Hearing a radio station in Inuktitut can provide just that kind of connection. “To wake up and hear your language is huge. It makes you feel a little less isolated,” Ms. Fender says.
Our CIUSSS has made a commitment to delivering culturally appropriate care to Indigenous patients, residents and clients within our network. Directors and managers— with the support of senior management—have been meeting with community partners to identify ways of best adapting our services to Indigenous people. Our CIUSSS has also welcomed a new Indigenous Liaison Officer, Lucie-Maude Grégoire, who will provide guidance and information to our CIUSSS teams on culturally relevant practices.
“We’re trying to provide care in a new way that respects the First Peoples of Canada,” says Jennifer Pépin, Assistant to the Associate CEO and Indigenous Affairs Officer, who is responsible for coordinating cultural safety initiatives for our CIUSSS. She sees this as an extension of our CIUSSS’s commitment to embracing ways to serve users from diverse backgrounds.
“Respecting diversity is part of our DNA,” Ms. Pépin says, “and now we’re focusing on the first culture that was here.”
She praises Ms. Petropoulos’s project as an initiative that reflects the CIUSSS’s approach and can be accomplished with just a little creativity. Ms. Petropoulos explains that she found an unused portable computer at Father Dowd and hooked it up to Wi-Fi to pick up the online radio station, Puvirnituq FM Radio. Whenever orderlies enter the resident’s room, they just click on the link to activate it.
“I’m excited that it worked, because it can be recreated elsewhere,” Ms. Petropoulos says.
The resident’s home is a village 1,600 kilometres from Montreal. Thanks to her social worker’s gesture, it feels just a little bit closer.