Partnering with Indigenous Peoples to Support Culturally Appropriate Health Care

Nov 1, 2017 - Mary Jean Hookimaw was born in the Cree community of Attawapiskat First Nation, grew up in Timmins and later moved to Ottawa. The single mother of seven children was facing serious life challenges. Unfortunately, she had lost her home due to financial difficulties. She ended up with no identification cards, and had to start from scratch.

Physically and mentally exhausted, Mary found help at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health. Mary visited an intake worker from Wabano to identify her needs. Since then, she has received a number of services at the centre, including the LHIN-funded walk-in counselling services.

The Champlain LHIN funds the program, which offers nine walk-in counselling locations across the Champlain region - including in Renfrew County, Cornwall and Ottawa. The program serves people facing mental-health issues, offers short-term therapy and doesn’t require an appointment or referral. Clinic hours are available at different locations daily, including in the evenings and on weekends.

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The walk-in program at Wabano provides culturally safe, and culturally-based counselling services for Indigenous peoples. The approach has shown to be life-changing, as it focuses on people’s strengths and offers immediate assistance during times of crisis.

“At Wabano, it is really important that we provide a mix of both Indigenous and western approaches of medicine,” explains Gina Metallic, Circle of Care Coordinator and Mental Wellness Case Manager Team Lead at Wabano.

“Culture and spirituality are key elements of our holistic healing and oftentimes that is what is missing from other service providers. Wabano is extremely lucky to have leadership through the LHIN that is really open-minded and willing to think outside the box.”


Margo Walsh (Family Systems Navigator and Mental Wellness Staff Development Team Leader), client Mary Jean Hookimaw holding her youngest child, Jasper King Hookimaw, and Gina Metallic.

Gina adds that having access to a counsellor without a referral has made a significant difference to clients. “They just want to come in, check in, talk about one really stressful situation, and the program allows them to do that,” she says.

For Mary, the walk-in counselling program was just one part of her healing journey. She was matched up with a family doctor at Wabano, and later participated in longer-term mental-health counselling. During her last pregnancy, she was seen by a specialist, and received support for post-natal care.

“It is a safe environment. Really, I love it here,” Mary says. “I am able to be myself. My children are able to be themselves. With the people that I associate with and the people that I share my experiences with, there is no judgment with them. They are supportive.

"As a single mother, handling my kids at home, with each of their personalities, the challenges that they face in their schools and their peers and stuff like that, I need a shoulder to cry on sometimes. I get that here. I get the world of encouragement and the praise. I come here after a few hours crying at home. I come here and I feel better. This place has been my rock through my storms.”

Mary Jean Hookimaw

Mary’s midwife, after hearing her inspirational story, once asked Mary to reach out to other single moms and dads.

Mary did that, and plans to continue to contribute to the health and well-being of others.

“I am going back to college and getting my mental-health counselling degree at the program in North Bay. They have inspired me to go after my dreams that I put on hold for a very long time,” she says. “This is where I am right now, compared to the Mary of two years ago.”

Quick Facts

  • At Wabano, the Champlain LHIN supports mental health and addictions services and programs for seniors. These LHIN-funded mental health and addictions programs include health-system navigation, hospital navigation, youth addictions counselling, and walk-in counselling. The LHIN also funds some cultural services and an Indigenous Cultural Safety training program through Wabano.
  • Wabano is the largest health service providers serving Indigenous peoples in the Ottawa area. It has a wide array of services including health promotion, primary health care, dental clinic, comprehensive mental health and addictions services, programs for seniors, as well as many culturally-based activities.
  • The Champlain Indigenous Health Circle Forum (Circle) works in partnership with the LHIN in health service planning to address the needs and gaps in services for Indigenous peoples across the Champlain region. Members of the Circle are community based, non-profit, incorporated Indigenous service organizations and First Nations that are focused on health and wellness needs. For example, the LHIN partnered with the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation to develop an innovative palliative care program. The Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health is also a member of the Circle.
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"The Champlain LHIN is very proud of the relationship developed with the Indigenous Health Circle Forum over the years, and we look forward to continue working together to address the needs of the Indigenous peoples.

"We know through our work with the Circle, that services provided to Indigenous people must be Indigenous-led and culturally-based to improve health outcomes.

"We are also working in partnership with the Circle to ensure that non-Indigenous health service providers have access to Indigenous cultural safety training so that services are provided for Indigenous people in a culturally safe way. ”

- Donna Lyons
Indigenous Engagement Specialist
Champlain LHIN

"The LHIN is so grateful for the strong partnership we have with the Indigenous Health Circle Forum.

"We are truly committed to working with Indigenous peoples to improve health and well-being, and we simply could not do this without the wisdom of the members of the Circle."

- Chantale LeClerc
Chief Executive Officer
Champlain LHIN

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