The Aboriginal Health Initiative is currently hosting its Healers of Tomorrow Gathering to 18 Aboriginal students on the Grenfell campus in Corner Brook. The students involved collectively represent all Aboriginal groups.
Sparks began the Aboriginal Health Initiative back in 2008, when she said the primary mandate was to recruit Aboriginal students from the province and introduce them to the idea of pursuing education, and potentially a practice in any of the fields associated with Medicine.
Sparks says initially she began recruiting students who had already made their way to university. However, it became apparent to her that reaching the students at a younger age would be crucial for them to get the most benefit from her programs.
With the help of a volunteer committee, Sparkes now gets word out to public schools and communities, where students apply to attend a future Healers of Tomorrow Gathering. The first of these was in the summer of 2015.
The Gathering introduces the students to all fields of Western Medicine, while also emphasizing the healing practices traditional to Aboriginal cultures.
This year’s Gathering featured a talk hosted by Chief Misel Joe, a Mi’kmaq elder, originally from Miawpukek.
Chief Joe spoke about the controversial history of Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland, the loss of culture felt by the Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland, and Mi’kmaq health and healing traditions. He said it was easy for people to “become lazy” now in terms of traditional medicine.
“It’s easier for people to go down to the drug store and buy Aspirin for the headache than it is to go into the woods” said Chief Joe. However, he stated to the group of Aboriginal students there that foraging, preparing, and using traditional medicine was still a significant part of Mi’kmaq life, and still a valid form of treatment despite commercial products like Aspiring being available on the market.
The students were also exposed to the idea during the talk that even “the feeling you get when you hold a newborn baby for the first time” or “the feeling you get when you hug your family members” were valued methods of healing in the Aboriginal conception of health, and shouldn’t be forgotten.
Sparkes said she hoped the students attending the Gathering would incorporate the Aboriginal beliefs and practices they were exposed to throughout the program into any future practices they may have in western medicine.
“My view is that you need good nurses, you need good lab technologists, occupational therapists, there’s a whole huge gamut of health care professions where people work together as a team, so I want to encourage students to think about the options” said Sparkes. “But at the same time, to carry into the practice their understanding and beliefs as Aboriginal people about health and healing”.
Sparkes said the Healers of Tomorrow Gathering was largely funded through the International Grenfell Association, and that she would be looking to fund another iteration of the program, with a new batch of Aboriginal students during the summer of 2019.