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Noojmawing Sookatagaing Ontario Health Team a voice for citizens

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Rocky Bay Child and Family Services staff Amanda Esquega and Tricia Mishquart shared information about their organization during the Noojmawing Sookatagaing (Healing Working Together) Ontario Health Team’s Indigenous Service Providers Showcase and Leadership Session on Nov. 21 at the Victoria Inn in Thunder Bay.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY — An Indigenous Service Providers Showcase and Leadership Session was hosted by the Noojmawing Sookatagaing (Healing Working Together) Ontario Health Team (OHT) on Nov. 21 at the Victoria Inn in Thunder Bay. Noojmawing Sookatagaing OHT, which supports a continuum of care with providers in the City and District of Thunder Bay, was officially launched in October 2022 as part of the fourth cohort of Ontario Health Teams.

“The Leadership [Session] was to bring service providers within the health and social services systems together to network and collaborate and to build trusting relationships and partnerships,” says Natalie Paavola, co-chair at Noojmawing Sookatagaing OHT, director of health and wellness at Dilico Anishinabek Family Care and Namaygoosisagagun citizen. “The reaction, I’m happy to say, has been quite positive. Everybody has been just pleased with the turnout and pleased with the feedback that we’ve been given and also sharing that they are quite happy and satisfied with the opportunity to network and collaborate with each other.”

Sandi Boucher, an Indigenous keynote speaker, author of Honorary Indian and other books and Seine River citizen, delivered a presentation on I Have a Dream during the Leadership Session.

“I’m a 10-year domestic abuse survivor — there’s a time I couldn’t have sat at a table and have a conversation with one of you, and look at what I do now,” Boucher says. “I am living proof our past does not have to be our present or our future, and it has nothing to do with how someone else looks at us, it’s how we look at us, that’s what we’re focusing on today.”

Boucher says her mother used to demonstrate to her and her brother how no individual can see the whole picture by having them look around the living room while standing back-to-back.

“She pointed out to us that there was so much of the room that we could see but there was one part we were totally blind to, my brother couldn’t see the part that was directly in front of me, I couldn’t see the part that was directly in front of him,” Boucher says. “This is why we need Indigenous voices on the OHT, because only if we come together and share what we see and actually believe each other can we start to see more of the room. And you’ve heard this in meetings, someone will say, ‘It doesn’t look like that to me.’ That’s not a challenge, that’s an opportunity to see something that’s in your blind spot.”

Paavola says the Showcase was an opportunity for Indigenous service providers and Indigenous-led services within the City and District of Thunder Bay to showcase their services.

“We know that removing barriers through awareness works,” Paavola says. “When you are aware of the services that are available, you are better able to help and support community.”

Amanda Esquega, traditional care manager at Rocky Bay Child and Family Services, says the Showcase was “really informative.”

“We did a lot of networking with other [Indigenous] agencies to kind of see what is out there for our families,” Esquega says, noting that they provide an array of prevention programs. “We’ve been here (in Thunder Bay) since 2019, our satellite office is here and our main office is in Rocky Bay. We always mirror our programming, our services there and here, whatever we do.”

Tricia Mishquart, child and family services manager at Rocky Bay Child and Family Services, says they are also a voice for their citizens in both the community and Thunder Bay.

“We all know as Indigenous peoples how hard it is to reach out for additional services and supports,” Mishquart says. “That is why we are very unique in what we do for our [citizens].”

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