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Staff and Indigenous leaders gathered to honour Indigenous children.
September 12, 2023

Every Child Matters flag smudging ceremony at HHS

On Wednesday, September 6, Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) staff and local Indigenous leaders gathered for a small, sacred smudging ceremony at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre. Indigenous elder and knowledge-keeper Grandmother Marie Jones, a Mohawk traditional woman born on the Six Nations Territory, Turtle Clan and raised in the fruit belt of Niagara, led the smudging ceremony with support from her helper, Shannon Mitchell.

Grandmother Marie Jones smudging the Every Child Matters flags, assisted by HHS’ Stephenie Rowe-Jansz, Indigenous project coordinator, and Deena Klodt, Indigenous patient navigator for the Regional Cancer Program based at HHS.

Grandmother Marie and Shannon led the smudging of several Every Child Matters flags, which will be installed at all main HHS sites in September as permanent symbols of remembrance of the devastating history of residential schools in Canada, and HHS’ commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“Today, we stand together in solidarity to honour the lives of the Indigenous children who were forcibly taken from their homes,  families, communities, and cultures due to the atrocities of settler colonial violence,” said Nagham Azzam, manager, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at HHS. “This is the unfortunate truth that we have to reckon with as settlers on this land. We join together today to acknowledge these truths in our shared commitment to the path of reconciliation and the ongoing work to dismantle systemic injustices.”

“Creating space for these flags at HHS is an important step towards reconciliACTION,” said Stephenie Rowe-Jansz, the Indigenous project coordinator for the Regional Cancer Program based at HHS. “I hope that seeing the flags at our sites will bring comfort to Indigenous patients and families, and will remind non-Indigenous folks about the importance of learning more about the history of residential schools and how they can support survivors.”

What is smudging?

Smudging is a traditional ceremony practiced by some Indigenous people that involves the burning of sacred medicines, such as tobacco, sweet grass, cedar and sage. This practice is based on traditional beliefs that the smoke produced is a means of purification and to create a positive mindset for those involved in the activities.

HHS supports smudging in our hospitals for spiritual and ceremonial purposes. With the input and guidance of partners from Indigenous communities, HHS has developed a smudging policy to guide this practice within the hospital, and patients and families can request a smudging ceremony by contacting the Spiritual Care team.

Grandmother Marie Jones with Kristi MacKenzie, director, Regional Cancer Program and Hematology.

“Thank you to Grandmother Marie and Shannon for including us in this important traditional ceremony,” said Kristi MacKenzie, the director of the Regional Cancer Program and Hematology at HHS. “Thank you for creating an opportunity for all of us to learn and grow in our understanding of our interconnectedness with the land, and each other, as we take steps forward toward truth and reconciliation.”

About the Every Child Matters flag

HHS’ Every Child Matters flags were purchased locally from the Indigenous retailer Iroqrafts, the largest and oldest arts and crafts store on Six Nations. The Every Child Matters flag is intended to bring awareness to Canada’s residential school history and survivors, and proceeds from the sale of the flag support Indigenous communities.

The orange background symbolizes the lasting impact of the residential school system on Indigenous communities, including individual and intergenerational trauma. The eagle feather honours and recognizes all of the children forced to attend residential schools. The phrase “Every Child Matters” is a tribute to the lives lost and carries a profound message: it signifies the value of every child, acknowledging those who have tragically passed away and the adults who continue to heal from the hardships endured during their time in residential schools.

Orange Shirt Day is September 30

Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day that honours the children who survived Indian Residential Schools and remembers the children who did not. In 1973, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, went to her first day of school wearing an orange shirt purchased by her grandmother. When Phyllis arrived at the school, staff stripped her of her clothes, including the orange shirt. Every September 30, Orange Shirt Day invites people to have meaningful conversations on the devastating impacts and legacy of residential schools.

Staff, physicians, patients and other visitors to HHS are encouraged to wear orange on September 28, 29 and 30 in solidarity with Indigenous people.

Stephenie Rowe-Jansz, Grandmother Marie Jones, Shannon Mitchell and Deena Klodt.