With the community gardens on the hospital site serving as a picturesque background, a ceremony was held on July 25 to rename Powell River General Hospital. The new name is qathet General Hospital.
The new name was proposed by the Tla’amin Nation government in 2021 to the leadership of Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) as a culturally appropriate name for the acute care facility.
The Tla’amin name replaces the hospital’s reference to Dr. Israel Powell, who became superintendent of Indian affairs for British Columbia in the 1800s, and whose policies are deeply offensive to Tla’amin members.
VCH board chair Dr. Penny Ballem said she wanted to acknowledge and thank the Coast Salish peoples, and especially Tla’amin Nation, whose traditional, unceded territory the hospital resides on. She said the intention is to deliver respectful and safe health services to all in the community, and particularly, the Indigenous people in Tla’amin.
“Today is a very significant milestone in the history of the Powell River General Hospital,” said Ballem. “This hospital has served the community for more than a quarter century, caring for thousands of community members across qathet Regional District.”
She said Tla’amin has been so important to VCH in engaging in a partnership.
“We couldn’t be making the changes we are today without your guidance, your support, your patience, and your honour for the business we are both in together – the health of your people,” said Ballem. “As many of you know, the name Powell is associated in this province with harm to the First Nations community. A name signals our values, our commitment and our intentions. It’s so important for health and a feeling of safety and cultural respect. When Tla’amin Nation first approached us asking that we consider renaming this hospital, we took the feedback to heart.”
Ballem said the nation expressed the importance of ensuring the hospital name better reflects a culturally safe and respectful environment for Indigenous community members to come and seek care.
“For more than a year we consulted with the nation, and we worked together to establish how to walk forward on this journey,” said Ballem. “Today is the culmination of all that work. This is our journey to reconcile and acknowledge we did wrong to our First Nations people, and now we are on a journey to try and make amends.”
Ballem then announced the hospital’s name as qathet General Hospital.
“Now we must live up to what this name means, and in the months and the years ahead, as the nation has placed its trust in us, we at VCH have to deliver,” said Ballem. “I feel we are ready to do that.”
Leslie Bonshor, VCH vice-president of Indigenous health, said names matter, and since she learned more about the name Powell, it hurts when she hears the name. She added that the hospital renaming is not just about reconciliation, it’s about resistance, thriving and taking roles back.
“I know this hospital, and all of the people who work in it, are going to join us on this journey, and commit to what qathet means, to work together,” added Bonshor. “qathet will acknowledge for your young children that this means safety. This addresses so many things.”
Vivian Eliopoulos, VCH president and chief executive officer, said the renaming of the hospital is an important moment in the history of health care delivery across qathet Regional District as VCH strives to work, caring for everyone.
“We graciously accept this new name, which was put forward by Tla’amin Nation, and we wholeheartedly commit to upholding all that this name represents in our ongoing relationship with your government, and with the care we deliver,” added Eliopoulos.
Tla’amin elder John Louie then blessed a sign bearing the name qathet General Hospital with cedar fronds.
In a media release from VCH, Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons made the following statement: “This is a welcome announcement and I appreciate the spirit and work of reconciliation behind it. We need to ensure health care is delivered in a culturally safe environment, and this includes taking steps to reflect the history of the place and the people who live there.”
Dillon Johnson, Tla’amin executive councillor, community services house post, was also quoted in the media release.
“Tla’amin Nation commends the leadership that Vancouver Coastal Health has exhibited with changing the name of the local hospital,” stated Johnson. “This name change is meaningful for our people as it addresses a barrier to culturally safe care, and it symbolizes a positive path forward.
“Through our collaboration on the name change and other recent initiatives, VCH is demonstrating how to advance reconciliation locally. We raise our hands to VCH in appreciation.”
qathet General Hospital serves qathet Regional District and surrounding rural communities.
“Vancouver Coastal Health is deeply committed to advancing Indigenous cultural safety, and this new name reflects our organizational commitment to provide Indigenous peoples with safe, quality and culturally appropriate care," added Eliopoulos. "We would like to extend our immense gratitude to Tla’amin Nation, elders and community members for their invaluable collaboration and partnership as we continue along our journey towards respectful and meaningful reconciliation.”
Bonshor said receiving the name is both a great honour and responsibility for VCH.
"It further solidifies our commitment to continue to work in partnership with Tla’amin Nation to ensure we earn and carry this name with respect," added Bonshor.
VCH will commission a Tla’amin artist to design a new sign for the hospital, which the health authority intends to install at the hospital’s entrance later in the year, according to the release.
“Our commitment to truth and reconciliation must be meaningfully addressed from leadership through to frontline staff," stated Ballem. "The stark findings from the In Plain Sight- Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in BC Health Care report are another reminder of the barriers Indigenous clients and patients may face while navigating the health care system. Renaming this hospital site is an important milestone as we work to ensure every health-care facility operating in our region is a culturally safe space for Indigenous people seeking essential treatment and care.”
BC health minister Adrian Dix also made a comment on the renaming.
“An impactful step forward in Indigenous reconciliation, qathet General Hospital is the first acute care site in the VCH region with an Indigenous name proposed by a First Nations partner," stated Dix. "It’s also meaningful that the word qathet, from q̓at̓ᶿət, means ‘working together, bringing together’ in Ayajuthem, the language of Tla’amin Nation.”