The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s Disability Access Committee is hosting the 16th annual Health Ability Fair on Oct. 7 and 8 at Alberni Athletic Hall.
The theme of this year’s event is “Wik-ay-its-tsa-wa-chink – You are not alone,” and over two days, features an amazing range of presentations to improve the physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural well-being of Nuu-chah-nulth people and communities.
“This year’s agenda looks exciting,” said NTC President Deb Foxcroft. “We’re incorporating our traditional wisdom, knowledge and teaching into healing and supports.”
Foxcroft said this year’s fair puts a special focus on trauma and the effects it has on people with disabilities. That includes recent and “historical” trauma, she added. Researchers are now coming to a greater understanding of the long-term disabling effects of historical and generational trauma, and for the need to deal with the source of the distress in order to prevent disease.
And, as has become a Health-Ability Fair tradition, there are also opportunities to pamper yourself. On both days, guests can sign up for massage, reflexology, acupuncture, haircuts or even a mini-manicure. For many, it can provide a much needed boost to their self-esteem, DAC Chair Helen Dick said.
“I found out right in the beginning when we started offering haircuts and manicures … that is such an uplifting thing. It improved their self-esteem; they looked good, they felt good; they felt proud and went away feeling happy and good about themselves for the rest of the day, the rest of the week. It was a little piece of medicine that they needed at that moment.”
“We have a lot of people who ask, ‘When is the Health-Ability Fair this year? I need a haircut,’” NTC Executive Director Florence Wylie said.
There are also crafts and information/resource tables on hand both days. This year, due to popular demand, there are two cedar weaving tables.
Opening ceremonies and introductions begin at 8:30 a.m. on Day One. Then, at 9:30 a.m., the Qu’aasa Cultural Team, Dave Frank and Joe Tom, leap right into the main theme with “Wik-ay-its-tsa-wa-chink – You are not alone.”
Dick said a lot of disabled Nuu-cha-nulth members feel alone when they do not have access to services.
“They fight through red tape, and then wind up right back where they started. And that’s why they feel alone,” she said. “This is why we felt it was important to let those individuals and all Nuu-chah-nulth know that they are not alone.”
Dick said sometimes people have been turned down so many times, for so many reasons, that they become afraid to ask for help. One purpose of the fair is to help people make connections with other members of the community who are dealing with similar issues and have found the right solutions.
The Qu’aasa Cultural Team is followed immediately at 11 a.m. by Clinical Counsellor Margaret Bird with a presentation on trauma. What is trauma? How can it affect us? What happens if we don’t deal with it? The emphasis is on the difficulties trauma can inflict on persons living with a disability.
The afternoon features a Health Panel discussion at 1 p.m., with Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist Bijan Mahmoudi speaking on the safe use of prescription medications, as well as potential interactions between prescribed medications, street drugs and/or alcohol. The NTC’s Non-Insured Health Benefits Coordinator Robert Cluett will give an overview on available programs and benefits, and more importantly, how to access them.
At 2 p.m., Fire Services Officer Curtis Dick will speak on how to keep your home safe. Safety becomes even more critical and problematic in the event of disability caused by illness or injury, according to Wylie.
“There are problems of accessibility. A lot of people have had to leave their communities because now they cannot even access their homes,” Wylie said. Families can become burdened with travel expenses, accommodation, medical devices and services.
At 3 p.m., Autism Client Support expert Kevin Dhillon makes a presentation on new software he has developed for autistic children and adults.
It isn’t all serious. Following a feast at 5 p.m., the Ojibwe Elvis, Gerry Elvis Barrett, takes to the stage for a stirring mix of music and stand-up comedy.
To start off Day 2, Kim Rai, acting manager of the Teechuktl Mental Health Program, will give an overview of services available through Teechuktl and Qu’aasa.
“We have a lot of residential school survivors who are living with disabilities and who have experienced trauma, and we feel it is important for him to explain to the participants where they are at as far as providing specific supports to clients,” Wylie said.
At 10 a.m., Jess McConnell, senior manager of First Nations Health Authority for Island Health, will outline the services and supports available through his agency. At 10:30 a.m., clinical counsellor Donna Brown will focus on caregivers, and the very present risk of burnout and depression.
Wylie said Brown’s message is that caregivers must create their own self-care plan or risk becoming consumed with the needs of their family member.
“We want them to know it’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to ask for respite,” she said.
At 1 p.m., Community and Health Services Training Coordinator Michael McCarthy will speak on Empowering Conversations.
Then at 2:45, it’s time for an Open Dialogue, where participants can ask questions, share their experiences and provide feedback and suggestions to DAC and to NTC. Then it’s a wrap, with Dave Frank and Joe Tom on hand to provide a send-off.
Dick said the whole event serves as a healing experience for people living with disabilities – even the most ordinary parts.
“When they come for lunch, or they come for dinner, they have that time with their families and with their friends, being comfortable and (being) who they are. It’s a time when they feel important and that they are accepted for who they are.”
“They are accepted unconditionally, and they feel safe there. And they know it,” Wylie said.
Alberni Athletic Hall is located at 3727 Roger St.