Traditional food will be widely available to patients and part of the menu at the new Stanton Territorial Hospital, expanding on offerings currently only available by request.
Northwest Territories Health Minister Glen Abernethy made the commitment in the legislature this week, while answering a question from Nunakput MLA Herb Nakimayak and again in a follow-up interview with CBC News.
Currently, Indigenous patients at Stanton Territorial Hospital can only get traditional food that's not prepared on-site by requesting it through the hospital's Indigenous Wellness Program.
"Indigenous foods in general have been well studied for their health benefits, not only for Indigenous patients here, but for all over the world." - Nicole Redvers
"Anywhere food is being cooked in a commercial kitchen, food has to be inspected, it has to be tested to ensure that is is safe to [use] in a commercial kitchen right now," Abernethy said.
"We're not really able to use traditional food, traditionally harvested foods in many of our [commercial] kitchens throughout the Northwest Territories."
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But, Abernethy said Tuesday, hospital officials and members of its Indigenous Wellness Program are working with the government's private partner in the new hospital project — Carillion Canada — to develop a menu that features traditional country food for when the new hospital opens.
"We want to find a way to have some locally-produced food in our hospitals for our residents," Abernethy said.
The territorial government is working at reforming food-safety regulations that would allow locally harvested fruit and vegetables to be prepared in commercial kitchens in the Northwest Territories by the 2018-19 fiscal year, he said.
Changes for meat and fish are expected to come later.
"As far as meat and fish that's harvested, that's going to take a bit more time," Abernethy said. "We have to ensure it is safely inspected before it can be cooked in our kitchens."
Though there are still a few years to go before the hospital is open, Abernethy said the government is committed to seeing this promise through.
Nicole Redvers, a naturopathic doctor in Yellowknife and a representative for the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, says this commitment has been a year in the making.
Indigenous elders want to be able to eat their local foods when they're in the hospital, she said, citing reindeer from Inuvik, fish from Great Slave Lake and locally grown fruits and vegetables as examples of what people want to see on the hospital's menu.
"Indigenous foods in general have been well studied for their health benefits, not only for Indigenous patients here, but for all over the world," she said. "They're very excited to have access to their local foods when they're in a sometimes vulnerable state in the hospital.
"It's a huge part of not only connecting with their culture, but also to be able to have nourishing things to help them heal on their recoveries."