A year ago, to help celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario embarked on an exciting creative initiative to help further make the hospital a welcoming space for all. Now, after months of creation this work has come to fruition with the unveiling and installation of a giant dreamcatcher and artwork by local Indigenous artisans.
“The dreamcatcher will be a beautiful visual for visitors when they come into the Cancer Centre and for First Nations, Indigenous and Métis patients it will tell them that this is a safe and culturally inclusive space,” says Carol Anne Maracle, a member of the South East Regional Indigenous Cancer Council. “For patients coming here for the first time it can be an overwhelming experience and the dreamcatcher is one way to help them adjust and feel more comfortable in this space.”
The idea for the dreamcatcher was first inspired by Maracle during her own cancer treatment. To help keep her focused during treatments she placed a dreamcatcher in the radiation suite to help remind her of her dreams and goals.
“I had many people come and tell me that they thought it was a beautiful gesture to have a dreamcatcher to look at during treatment and the more time I spent here looking through the atrium to the water, I saw the potential to make this beautiful symbol visible to everyone who comes through these doors,” says Maracle. “When I started volunteering here and becoming involved with the Indigenous Council I suggested this idea to the hospital; to see this dream becoming a reality is very exciting.”
Inspired by Maracles idea, the South East Regional Indigenous Cancer Council made a recommendation to have a permanent dream catcher and Indigenous artwork installed throughout the Cancer Centre as a way to help make a traditionally clinical space feel more welcoming and safe for Indigenous patients.
“The aim of the Aboriginal Cancer Strategy, and the regional cancer program, is to address the unique cancer care issues affecting First Nations, Inuit, Métis and urban Indigenous communities. Critical to this work is ensuring that Indigenous peoples have a voice in how this work is shaped and delivered,” says Ashley Hendry, manager, South East Regional Cancer Program. “Today marks an exciting milestone in the ongoing partnership with our Indigenous communities and the delivery of the strategy as we celebrate the installation of patient-inspired and council recommended artwork and help to further create a culturally safe space for our Indigenous patients.”
Weaving for the dreamcatcher began in June 2018 on National Indigenous Peoples Day and has since traveled to Indigenous communities across the region to be further weaved and have beads added. One dreamcatcher has been installed above the elevators in the Burr Wing atrium, while another two will be installed in the chemotherapy treatment suite and the radiation therapy waiting room. When an Indigenous patient completes their cancer treatment, they will be invited to add a bead onto the dreamcatcher to mark the completion of their treatment journey.
“Beads currently on the dreamcatcher have been added by community members as a sign of well wishes to any Indigenous cancer patient or family member that might be coming through the Cancer Centre and to help them know that they are not alone,” says Hendry. “This was truly a community effort that is the result of many hands and countless hours of work.”
Traditionally, dreamcatchers have come to symbolize unity and strength. The web of the dreamcatcher catches bad dreams and lets the good ones through. The good dreams are attracted to the center bead which guides them down to a feather pointing to the head of the dreamer and when the sunlight breaks through the darkness of the night, the bad dreams are burnt up.
In addition to the installation of the dreamcatcher, ten pieces of artwork by local Indigenous artisans will be installed throughout the Cancer Centre. For one of the artisans, knowing that his artwork might make a positive difference for someone else was worth the time and work into his submission.
“I think it’s really cool that my art is here and will be open to more people, but I think it’s even better that the Cancer Centre will even have Indigenous artwork on display,” says Chip McCrimmon, one of the artisans present for the opening event. “Even if my art wasn’t part of the display I’m proud to be here and celebrate all of the artisans. It’s exciting to be a small part of history.”
The dreamcatcher and artwork were unveiled at an official opening ceremony that was attended by staff and leadership from the Cancer Centre and Kingston Health Sciences Centre, as well as representatives from First Nations, Inuit, Métis and urban Indigenous communities and community partners. A land acknowledgement, music, speeches and reception helped build excitement in the packed room as attendees viewed the final creative products.
“It’s incredibly exciting to be at this point to see all of the work that has been put in to create this artwork come to fruition,” says Hendry. “But our work isn’t done. This is an important milestone in our partnership and relationship with our Indigenous communities and we are looking forward to continuing on this journey of bringing our strategy to life with them.”
To see more photos from the opening and of the artwork that will be displayed, please visit our full Facebook album here.