Mural in Kahnawake, Que., honours community health-care workers

·3 min read

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, management of a hospital in the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community of Kahnawake, Que., are saying thank you to staff with a mural dedicated in their honour.

"It's a sign of appreciation [for] teamwork, collaboration, and people who constantly have their patients at heart in everything they do and are working tirelessly," said Lisa Westaway, executive director at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre.

"It was our way of saying thank you because just saying thank you just didn't feel like it was enough."

The mural, which was unveiled Nov. 5, is located across the street from the hospital. It was painted by artist/art therapist Megan Kanerahtenháwi Whyte.

"It was a really big project, and I think it carried with it a lot of responsibility in terms of delivering the sentiment that the hospital was conveying but also the responsibility of putting it all together. I felt honoured to be the person invited to do that," she said.

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC
Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC

Whyte wanted a welcoming community environment to come across in the painting's imagery.

"Despite the hardships and challenging experiences that we have during this time, we're doing it together," she said.

The mural features two health-care workers wearing masks, a smudge bowl, moon cycle, and several aspects of Kanien'kehá:ka culture.

"There's a lot of different feelings that come out during this time for many reasons, so to have that medicine incorporated into the mural was really important to convey that we have our cultural teachings and access to land and culture to help us through this, and that is an element that's there in our work as Indigenous people working with Indigenous people," said Whyte.

Along the horizon, the mural features a series of people standing together. She said it reflects the different roles and responsibilities in running a hospital.

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/ CBC
Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/ CBC

"It's not just the doctors and the nurses that are critical figures but all the people working in the background, and we rely on each other to make sure the structure as a whole continues to deliver safe services to the community," said Whyte.

Westaway said the pandemic has taken a toll on staff. But while the hospital experienced a COVID-19 outbreak among staff early on in the pandemic, there's been zero cases among its long-term care residents.

They were quick to implement strict measures for visitation and staff including banning health-care workers from working in multiple long-term care facilities or hospitals before it was mandated by the Quebec government, as well as adopting further protocols to mitigate possible spread, like changing clothing before and after shifts.

"They're tired like everybody else but they have to continually give," Westaway said about her staff.

"Employees are doing things that are above and beyond what they have signed up for, and they're never uttering those words 'no' or 'no, that can't be done.'"

She said, for example, a dental hygienist is helping at the community's COVID-19 testing site and a physiotherapist is working as a nursing attendant aide in the inpatient department.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The idea for the mural was inspired by the six-storey mural artist Patrick Forchild painted earlier this year at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal to honour health-care workers.

"It's really a concrete, tangible, and lasting way of demonstrating gratitude, appreciation, teamwork and everything the hospital has done," said Westaway.