Know Your Heroes: Victoria Manitowabi & Chantell Morais

Patient Navigators
Victoria Manitowabi and Chantell Morais, Emergency Department Indigenous Patient Navigators

Name: “Naaniibwid Genoozid Zhingwaak Kwe”, – Victoria Manitowabi
Title: Emergency Department Indigenous Patient Navigator
Number of years working in health care: 8 years in community health care
I was born and raised in: I was raised in Toronto, and I’m an Anishinaabe Kwe from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island

Name: “She Carries the Light”, – Chantell Morais
Title: Emergency Department Indigenous Patient Navigator
Number of years working in health care: 5 years in community health care. This is my first position in a health care institution outside of a Community Health Centre
I was born and raised in: I was born in Toronto, I am Haudenosaunee Mohawk Bay of Quinte

Victoria: My journey in health care started when I used to wait for my sister when she used to work at the Wiikwemikong nursing home. I observed staff at the nursing home providing care for the Elders and then asked questions about the work. I received a personal support certificate and provided home care for the daily needs of community members. I worked at the Toronto Birth Centre and provided support to midwives and community members using the space for labour and giving birth. Building my bundle and sharing knowledge in the community gave me the strength to pursue further my education journey of community work.

Chantell: I decided to get into health care because traditionally the Haudenosaunee community follows a clan based system where each person belongs to a clan that is passed down from mother to child. I sit with the Bear Clan, where people are known to be medicine people and healers. Having never been one to work with traditional medicines I focused my thoughts and strengths on community and how healing can come in many forms. I decided that in order to help my community heal from the effects of colonialism, systemic racism and institutional violence, that I would work within community services and care. A part of my teachings include a medicine wheel understanding of healing and health care, this is that we must be in balance physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually so for me community care, advocacy and being a part of navigating support has always been linked healing and who I am, the gifts and strengths I carry and how I walk the path I am on in life.

Victoria: My role here at UHN is to provide care and support community members who self-identify as First Nations, Metis and Inuit people that come into the Emergency Department at the Toronto General Hospital. While community members are on their health care journey, I’m here as a shkaabewis (helper) to hold a safe space for the needs of the community member and their well-being cared for. I have a responsibility to strengthen our voices when navigating the system, allowing ceremony and medicines to be a part of their journey. Also, connecting with the community and resources.

Chantell: My role here at UHN is to help self-identified First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people who come into the Emergency Department at the Toronto Western Hospital navigate the health care system. More importantly my role is to sit with and hold space for my community members and ensure they feel safe, cared for and that their voices and experiences matter while on their health care journey.

Victoria: The thing I love the most about my job is that I’m working in a space where our community wasn’t allowed or felt welcome or still experiencing those feelings of not being welcoming. I’m sitting in an area where my ancestors couldn’t and I’m here trying to let people know we belong. Sitting with community members from Turtle Island is a good start on their care journey, and building those relationships with how I can navigate and support them. The health care space can be frightening for Indigenous people, from dealing with systemic racism that involves terrible care or experience from intergenerational trauma.

Chantell: The thing I love the most about my job is that for many Indigenous peoples the health care system can be scary, we have intergenerational traumas and personal traumatic experiences that are directly related to systemic racism and institutional violence. Coming into the hospital can be a very daunting experience. What I love the most about my job is that I can help meet community members where they are at, I can sit with them in a good way and I can provide care to ensure that the experiences of trauma are not repeated when they are at the Emergency Department of Toronto Western Hospital.

Victoria: The most incredible thing I’ve seen at work is seeing loved ones supporting their parent, partner, child, friend, worker or community while on their care journey. I’ve seen all the emotions of love, hope, fear, tiredness, frustration, grief or any other feelings their supporting people must experience. I experienced being on the other side with a loved one while on their care journey and knowing some of those feelings. As community members and families are on their care journey, I have a meaningful role in being on a different side of understanding how I can support them by showing love and kindness. For any reason why, a community member is on their care journey alone, I’m a sense of community that can provide that they aren’t alone on their care journey.

Chantell: The most incredible thing I’ve seen at work is there is a young person in the ICU who will be receiving their spirit name from an Elder. I get to be a part of that ceremony, provide support to the family while we navigate the circumstances around organizing this ceremony while admitted in hospital. For me this is an incredible experience because in the Mohawk community when you receive your spirit name you are receiving the meaning of who you are and your purpose on their path. Being able to provide support around this for this young person and their family is an incredible honour.

Chantell and Victoria
Victoria Manitowabi, (L), and Chantell Morais are the two new Indigenous patient navigators in the UHN Emergency Department. (Photo: UHN)

Victoria: I’m inspired by my identity that connects with my culture and community. Growing up, I went through some trauma which made me lose connection to my spirit. My auntie Karen Manitowabi Baa helped me by giving me my first Cedar bath. The ceremony of the Cedar Bath encouraged me to heal from the trauma and the work I had to keep doing for healing. The work supported me in balancing my mental, spiritual, emotional and physical connections and my little girl spirit was loved. I am moved by the healing medicine of Cedar and how it’s a gift to us from Gizhe Manidoo Creator and Shkagamik Kwe Mother Earth. Cedar did its healing work for me and helped me find a connection with my culture and community.

Chantell: I’m inspired by the strength and vibrancy of my community. I see the beauty that is in my community every day, our strength, our culture, our traditions, and the ways in which we carry ourselves as people. I am inspired to do better and be better because I get to see people in my community walking with pride and honour in who they are every day.

Victoria: My personal heroes are my parents Dad Luke Fox Baa and Mama Paulette Manitowabi because: I wouldn’t have left the spirit world and started my journey here in the physical world. My dad was raised by his grandparents on the Fox farm where they taught him great values and spoke the language fluently. He shared and showed those teachings to me and my sister that guided me to work hard, teach about forgiveness and be kind-hearted to others. My dad was the protector, provider and used his gifts by helping others or having a good conversation. My mother was raised on the farm with her parents and eight siblings, where she learned love and strength. My mom then raised my sister and me with those values, giving us the opportunity to grow a childhood, and she is a person who I can always call.

Chantell: One of my personal heroes is my mother because I have watched her care for her community in ways that make peoples lives better. My mother is the mental health coordinator for a reserve in Northern Ontario that is not our home community but is a community that has taken her in and loves her as one of their own. Watching her do the work she does, how she works with traditional medicines, supports people through cultural and traditional ways when they need it the most, the work she does makes me want to be a stronger support for my own community. My mother cares for her community and her family with good medicine that is healing for so many and I couldn’t be prouder and more inspired to be her daughter.

Victoria: I sometimes worry about Shkagamik Kwe, our Mother Earth and how we’re not taking good care of her. Nibi our water life is one of the best medicines as it’s sacred and we need it all of life. It’s pollution all over the world in rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans and if we’re not bring awareness about these life issues and I worry about future generations. We have our water walker, future generations and helpers doing the good work by caring for this important matter.

Chantell: I sometimes worry about the way people think about traditional knowledge and medicine when it comes to the health care system. I think about how some times our traditional and cultural knowledge is not valued the same way as Western medicine is. I worry about this because I know firsthand what ceremony, traditional medicines, and cultural practices does for my mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health and wellbeing and I want my community members who are seeking medical care to feel comfortable in accessing and requesting this for themselves when need be. I think that is why I am so drawn to the work that I do for UHN and the fact that I get to work with Dr. Anderson, Ashley, Leonard, and Victoria because we all share the same understanding and value in providing people access to cultural supports.

Victoria: I’ve found joy recently from having a smudge and taking the time to say my Chi-Miigwech to Gizhe Manidoo our Creator. Mino Bimaadiziwin means to live the good life, by walking with that teaching from the guidance of the seven grandfather teachings. Humility, Bravery, Honesty, Wisdom, Truth, Respect and Love are sacred for each community receiving oral knowledge from the ceremony, elders, and family or learning from your body, mind and spirit. Bringing the teachings with yourself leads to a balance mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of connections. I’m on this journey of learning every day.

Chantell: I’ve found joy recently from every day, I thank Creator for the people in my life, the people who bring me joy, teach me lessons, and encourage me to walk in The Seven Grandfather teachings. I find joy in being around them, the people who motivate me, who support me, and who guide me in being a better version of myself every day.

Victoria: My favourite book is Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga, because it stands out with an importance message and story about Indigenous communities in Canada and reading it helped me gain an understanding of the harms of Indigenous youth experience and the stereotypes that are based and the violence towards First Nation communities. The book tells a story about seven Indigenous youths Jethro Anderson, Curran Strang, Paul Panacheese, Robyn Harper, Reggie Bushie, Kyle Morrisseau and Jordan Wabasse. The youth didn’t have much of a choice by having to travel and leave their home community to attend school in Thunder Bay. The last Residential school closed in Canada in 1996, and some children in communities still have to leave their families and community to get an education. Each chapter in the book had one of the fallen feathers youth who they were and stories from their family and community. In their stories it tells about their cases and little has been done about their deaths as they were “accidental death” or not investigated.

Chantell: My favourite book is The Truth About Stories by Thomas King because it teaches us how stories shape who we are, who we understand other people to be, and how we interact with ourselves and others. What I like most about Thomas King’s writing is that it reminds me that our stories are always ongoing. Our stories about ourselves can change depending on who we are sharing them with, we can share more of the story with one person than another and we can focus on specific parts with some people who need to hear those parts of us. To me this speaks to the importance of community work and community connection, sharing our stories is what strengthens our bonds and relationships within our community and it can look different each time we decide to share but the reminder always being that we have the power to share that and we get to control the message. I try to remember this when thinking about the stories that are told about my community members and Indigenous peoples as a whole. We can share our stories of strength, resiliency, and vibrancy we can make sure that people know we are proud and strong people that walk with honour in who we are, and I get to be a part of sharing that story about my people.

Victoria: My ideal day off is using that time to relax, sleep in and clean (yes, cleaning). After that rest, I enjoy connecting with Mother Earth and being outside with my partner and dog son, Osito, while we canoe on the lakes or rivers. I love camping and falling asleep to the sounds of the water moving, the wind blowing on the tree, or animal sounds. When I can have moments to connect with my home community, I use that time to spend with family. After, if I have enough energy, I love that time to cook or bake.

Chantell: My ideal day off is one where I get to be on the land. I am a strong advocate for land based healing and believe that my inner spirit is intertwined with my family, my community and the land. I cannot be understood apart from these three elements so being out of the city, away from the concrete and on the land connected to the earth is the way I want to spend my time whenever I can.

Did you know you can recognize a UHN staff member through our Honour Your Hero program? Express gratitude for the care you or a loved one received and share a personal message of thanks with the people who supported you throughout your care journey. Your gift will supported research, education and the enhancement of patient care right here at UHN.

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