Photo © Courtesy of Ontario Native Women’s Association
In Ojibwe, “Mindimooyenh” means “one who holds things together.” It is a term that embodies Indigenous women’s responsibilities, recognizing the pivotal role and hard-earned wisdom regarding life’s passages, such as contending with sickness and disease that they exercised within their families and communities.
The Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) recognized early in the pandemic that there was increased violence and decreased access to care for Indigenous women, families and vulnerable community members. The importance of ONWA’s Mindimooyenh leadership responsibility during the pandemic was evident; ONWA expanded their services to ensure that Indigenous women and their families had access to culturally-grounded holistic health services and better systems navigation.
ONWA, with the help of like-minded partners, quickly mobilized to respond to the need for holistic, culturally grounded health services. With limited resources, the ONWA team switched all program priorities towards mobilization of the Mindimooyenh Health Clinic and opened the vaccine clinic doors on March 9, 2021—one week after committing to lead an urban Indigenous vaccine clinic in Thunder Bay.
The entire ONWA team was committed to assisting community members by switching the focus to providing an honouring cultural and personal space for Indigenous community members to be vaccinated. ONWA also recognized the importance of maintaining the family unit during the administration of vaccines. Alongside western forms of healing, ONWA incorporated culture throughout the clinic by providing traditional medicines to achieve the safe space Indigenous women and their families need. The blend of traditional and western forms of healing in the same space contributed to the clinic’s 99 per cent success rate.
In late November 2021, the Mindimooyenh Health Clinic became solely operated by ONWA and continues to be the longest, largest running Indigenous COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Thunder Bay. The ONWA’s Mindimooyenh Health Clinic team has vaccinated over 12,000 community members over the last year and continues to provide traditional medicines to assist community members in their own healthcare journey.
The Mindimooyenh Health Clinic has now become a funded program that includes land-based healing programs and a mobile vaccination unit. The mobile unit meets community members where they are at and provides vaccinations and health outreach supports. The Clinic has a dedicated toll-free number, 1-807-697-1753, that functions as a health information line, vaccine booking line and navigation resource for community members across Ontario. The phoneline operates Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is staffed by nurses and navigators to provide health support and answer questions.
ONWA also launched a vaccine hesitancy media campaign and produced three short videos outlining the vaccination process and what to expect from the clinic, as well as a provincial vaccination campaign and public service announcements. The videos were shared on ONWA’s website, www.onwa.ca and social media, as well as with partner agencies to help alleviate anxiety around the vaccination process.
The Mindimooyenh Health movement at ONWA has been a growing success in increasing timely, safe, culturally focused vaccination access for urban Indigenous people in Thunder Bay and the area.
ONWA amplifies the voices of Indigenous women that quality, safe, culturally focused health care across an Indigenous women’s life cycle is critical in post-pandemic recovery. ONWA continues to work together to address systemic racism and discrimination that Indigenous women and their families face at the policy, research and program level, as well as advocate to ensure ONWA remains at the forefront of delivering culturally-grounded, gender-based and trauma-informed health programs and services.
Project supported by the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario.
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At the ONWA, we celebrate and honour the safety and healing of Indigenous women and girls as they take up their leadership roles in the family, community and internationally for generations to come.