“There’s nothing quite like the aroma of freshly baked blueberry muffins to take people’s stress levels down a few notches,” said Matthew Baran, executive director, Ooknakane Friendship Centre.
When the Penticton-area agency hosted the first COVID-19 vaccination clinic to be held at a B.C. friendship centre, staff made sure to add muffin making to their work plans for that day.
Almost 200 people attended the one-day clinic March 10, which Ooknakane pulled together in 24 hours after Interior Health accepted Ooknakane’s invitation to host a vaccination clinic for Indigenous peoples. “We’d been collaborating already with the health authority, so it was a very natural progression,” Baran said.
Ooknakane’s 12 staff sprang into action. They organized the work space to make room for visiting nurses, figured out a transport schedule to get isolated Elders to and from the centre, and identified a space where people could wait comfortably and safely for the required 15 minutes after their vaccination – and eat a muffin.
“Food is part of everything the centre does,” Baran said. “We did what we always do at the centre, which is look after people. In any Indigenous community, people honestly care about you – and care for you. You’re walking into the hands of family.”
Aside from the obvious benefits of being able to get people vaccinated in a familiar and welcoming environment, Baran said the clinic brought “some enlightening moments” for nurses as well, who learned the caring inherent in the way Indigenous-led community social services are provided extended to them, too.
“From an Indigenous perspective, you bend the rules to look after the people. ‘Standardize the norms, humanize the anomalies’ a professor of mine used to say,” Baran said. “It’s a different way of thinking about how you deliver services.”
B.C.'s health authorities have organized vaccination clinics in partnership with First Nations throughout the province. However, most Indigenous peoples in B.C. live off-reserve. B.C.’s network of 25 friendship centres – all members of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres – reached out to individual health authorities offering to host clinics for those living off-reserve.
The event at Ooknakane was the first of its kind. The Penticton First Nation referred some of the band’s Elders to the friendship centre for their COVID-19 vaccinations. Its own clinic was still upcoming and the Penticton First Nation wanted to prioritize its most vulnerable.
Meanwhile, the usual daily activities at Ooknakane carried on as normal that day. People were being registered for their vaccination at the front of the building while staff at the back organized food hampers and prepared the centre’s food truck for its regular deliveries to Penticton, Osoyoos, Keremeos and beyond.
The centre serves an extensive region that stretches north from the U.S. border to Summerland, and west from Osoyoos to Princeton.
Every friendship centre provides distinct services adapted for the needs of Indigenous peoples in a particular region. Ooknakane’s diverse services range from pre-natal care to end-of-life planning: “We like to say ‘from creation to crypt, we’ve got our bases covered,’ ” Baran said.
Ooknakane has supports and services related to children in government care, including the Roots program connecting youth to their Indigenous ancestry and developing cultural plans for foster and adoptive parents.
The B.C. government has proclaimed March as Community Social Services Awareness Month in appreciation of the more than 42,000 people who work in the community social services sector. They provide help and assistance to those who need it most.
Learn more about Ooknakane Friendship Centre: https://www.friendshipcentre.ca/
For the Community Social Services Awareness Month Proclamation, visit: