British Columbia

Hospital staff in B.C. village learn Gitxsan language to connect with Indigenous patients

Phrasebook, on-site translator available for patients at Hazelton's Wrinch Memorial Hospital.

Phrasebook, on-site translator available for patients at Hazelton's Wrinch Memorial Hospital

Staff at Wrinch memorial Hospital read from their pocketbook of Gitxsan words and phrases. (Northern Health)

Staff at Wrinch Memorial Hospital in Hazelton, B.C. are learning Gitxsan phrases such as "Hindahl wila win?" ("How are you?") in an effort to make healthcare more accessible for Indigenous patients.

Gitxsan is spoken by approximately 1,285 people, according to Statistics Canada data, primarily in the Skeena region of northwestern B.C.

And though most Gitxsan speakers can also communicate in English, having doctors and nurses use words and phrases in the local language sends an important message, said Maureen Den Toom, the manager of patient care services at Wrinch Memorial.

"You can see people smile when you try [to speak the language]," Den Toom told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

"That shows that we are there for them and we understand that we're not Gitxsan, but we're trying to do the best that we can."

An illustration from the phrasebook, published by Northern Health. (Northern Health)

Roughly 80 per cent of the people in the communities served by Wrinch Memorial are Gitxsan, Den Toom said, and it is important for health care professionals to work collaboratively in the region and show respect for the local culture.

That's how she came up with the idea to publish a pocket-sized phrasebook for hospital staff to use, complete with illustrations of different body parts.

The hospital also employs a translator who is available for more complex conversations.

"We realize that somebody whose first language is Gitxsan needs to have somebody there to make them feel comfortable, to make them feel safe," Den Toom said.

Wrinch Memorial Hospital in New Hazelton sometimes sees patients whose primary language is Gitxsan, so it has a phrasebook to help those patients communicate their condition. 7:16
 

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