A strong con­tri­bu­tion

Ottawa Business Journal - Ottawa at Home - - WABANO CENTRE - Cather­ine Clark,

Grow­ing up on North­ern On­tario’s Wik­wemikong re­serve in the 1950s, Al­li­son Fisher quickly re­al­ized that all Cana­di­ans were not cre­ated equal. “Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple didn’t even get the right to vote un­til the 1960s,” notes Al­li­son, now the Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Ot­tawa’s Wa­bano Cen­tre for Abo­rig­i­nal Health. “But I had a mom who was very ac­tive in the com­mu­nity and who un­der­stood our lack of power and author­ity, and I watched her fight on our be­half,” she con­tin­ues. “I was very aware that our place was not on equal foot­ing with the rest of so­ci­ety.”

In­stead of be­com­ing em­bit­tered by that re­al­ity, Al­li­son got to work. The first task she set for her­self af­ter start­ing work at the Wa­bano Cen­tre was get­ting Ot­tawa’s 30,000 First Na­tions, Inuit and Métis peo­ple onto the city’s cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal radar. But given the pro­found stereo­types about her peo­ple held by many non-abo­rig­i­nals, it was a tough slog.

“We were an in­vis­i­ble peo­ple in this city,” she re­mem­bers frankly.

She also un­der­stood that Ot­tawa’s abo­rig­i­nal pop­u­la­tion needed a safe, non­judg­men­tal gath­er­ing space. “Our peo­ple have of­ten come from marginal­iza­tion and trauma, they are try­ing to find their iden­tity, they are look­ing for care, and they need a place like Wa­bano,” says Al­li­son.

Of­fer­ing to­tal health­care from an abo­rig­i­nal per­spec­tive – from med­i­cal clin­ics to spir­i­tual care to mental health as­sis­tance to so­cial sup­port – Wa­bano is rec­og­nized as the pre­miere abo­rig­i­nal health cen­tre in all of Canada. “It is their space, their com­mu­nity; a pos­i­tive, ex­pres­sive place that holds the heart of the abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in this city,” Al­li­son ex­plains.

And, while the Cen­tre it­self pro­vides ex­cel­lence in care, Al­li­son’s in­clu­sive ap­proach is a big part of what makes Wa­bano so suc­cess­ful, notes Dr. An­dre Lalonde, pres­i­dent of The So­ci­ety of Ob­ste­tri­cians and Gy­nae­col­o­gists of Canada which part­ners with Wa­bano on ma­ter­nal health. “Al­li­son uses her per­sonal and pro­fes­sional pas­sion to cre­ate tan­gi­ble change.”

Now more change is com­ing. In 2012, a new and ex­panded Wa­bano build­ing, de­signed by renowned abo­rig­i­nal ar­chi­tect Dou­glas Car­di­nal, will open its doors, pro­vid­ing a strik­ing, con­tem­po­rary ex­am­ple of what abo­rig­i­nal Cana­di­ans can achieve to­gether.

“The dis­course about abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple can still be a dif­fi­cult one, but the only way to deal with that is to do things in a proud way and do them well. We are not a peo­ple who have dis­ap­peared,” con­cludes Al­li­son. “We are strong, we con­trib­ute, and that is what our cen­tre is all about.” For more in­for­ma­tion visit www.wa­bano.com. Cather­ine Clark is the host of Be­yond Pol­i­tics on CPAC, air­ing Sun­day nights at 8 p.m.

pho­tog­ra­phy by mark holleron

Al­li­son Fisher.

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