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My first time visiting the Wabano Centre

Written by Jessica Ruano

Last week, I was treated to a personal tour of the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health (photo gallery below). It was my first time visiting the Centre and it was a revelation.

The centre’s Director of Development Melissa Hammel picked me up from my mother’s school – where her young children go to school – and drove me to this gorgeous building at 299 Montreal Road, just a few blocks east of the Vanier Parkway.

20150820_104936The main purpose of the Centre, which has been open for over 16 years, is to provide the aboriginal community with health services that combine native and western medical practice. In addition to visiting with a doctor, a counsellor, or an elder, community members are welcome to attend fitness classes, or hop a bus (free of charge) to yoga on Parliament Hill.

The Wabano Centre is divided into the Earth floor, the Water floor, the Fire floor, and the Sky floor, each one focusing on a different aspect of the centre. The Earth floor, for instance, houses a beautiful play area for children and rooms that are used for youth summer camps and workshops.

Each floor features breath-taking indigenous art from across Canada. Melissa introduced me to the work of each artist, explaining its history. One incredible statue of a bear was won in an auction and the winner decided to donate it back to the centre because he was moving to another city and it was just too heavy to bring along!

On the top floor, the Sky floor, there is a permanent exhibit that provides insightful text and images on the Residential School System (a term that is far too euphemistic) and its effect on the indigenous community. Even though I am familiar with the all-too-recent history of residential schools, I find myself newly alarmed every time I hear another narrative about the unarguably racist atrocities committed there.

Melissa said the Centre was created so that native people would have a place to celebrate and be proud of their culture and heritage, and so that non-native people would develop a stronger appreciation and understanding for aboriginal communities.

Have a look at these photos and you’ll see what she’s talking about. Better yet, visit the Wabano Centre in person. Every Monday evening at 6pm they host a Culture Night open to the entire community, and the Centre is open to the public during the day. I’d love to hear about your experience.

The One World Film Festival presents “Our Home on Native Land” on Saturday, September 26th, 2015, from 12pm to 5pm and 6pm to 10pm, featuring a variety of films, workshops, and panels on indigenous communities across Canada, including a short film by Howard Adler titled An Object Has Spirit that was filmed at the Wabano Centre. For more information, please visit our 2015 Festival Schedule