The Ooknakane Friendship Centre in Penticton’s vaccine clinic was the first of it’s kind in B.C., and it packed a homey touch.
The clinic was the first to be opened at a friendship centre in B.C., and to help make the close to 200 people who attended feel better staff prepared with some fresh baking.
“There’s nothing quite like the aroma of freshly baked blueberry muffins to take people’s stress levels down a few notches,” said Matthew Baran, executive director, Ooknakane Friendship Centre.
The clinic, held on March 10, was together in 24 hours after Interior Health accepted Ooknakane’s invitation to host a vaccination clinic for Indigenous peoples.
“We’d been collaborating already with the health authority, so it was a very natural progression,” Baran said.
Ooknakane’s 12 staff sprang into action. They organized the work-space to make room for visiting nurses, figured out a transport schedule to get isolated Elders to and from the centre, and identified a space where people could wait comfortably and safely for the required 15 minutes after their vaccination — and eat a muffin.
“Food is part of everything the centre does,” Baran said. “We did what we always do at the centre, which is look after people. In any Indigenous community, people honestly care about you – and care for you. You’re walking into the hands of family.”
B.C.’s health authorities have organized vaccination clinics in partnership with First Nations throughout the province. However, most Indigenous peoples in B.C. live off-reserve. B.C.’s network of 25 friendship centres – all members of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres – reached out to individual health authorities offering to host clinics for those living off-reserve.
The event at Ooknakane was the first of its kind. The Penticton First Nation referred some of the band’s Elders to the friendship centre for their COVID-19 vaccinations. Its own clinic was still upcoming and the Penticton First Nation wanted to prioritize its most vulnerable.
Meanwhile, the usual daily activities at Ooknakane carried on as normal that day. People were being registered for their vaccination at the front of the building while staff at the back organized food hampers and prepared the centre’s food truck for its regular deliveries to Penticton, Osoyoos, Keremeos and beyond.
The centre serves an extensive region that stretches north from the U.S. border to Summerland, and west from Osoyoos to Princeton.
Every friendship centre provides distinct services adapted for the needs of Indigenous peoples in a particular region. Ooknakane’s diverse services range from pre-natal care to end-of-life planning: “We like to say ‘from creation to crypt, we’ve got our bases covered,’ ” Baran said.
The clinic also offered an opportunity for the Friendship Centre to show the nurses how care is provided by the Indigenous-led community social services.
“From an Indigenous perspective, you bend the rules to look after the people. ‘Standardize the norms, humanize the anomalies’ a professor of mine used to say,” Baran said. “It’s a different way of thinking about how you deliver services.”
Ooknakane has supports and services related to children in government care, including the Roots program connecting youth to their Indigenous ancestry and developing cultural plans for foster and adoptive parents, with more information available at their website at friendshipcentre.ca.
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