Dr. Jenny Morgan has held the inaugural role of Director, Indigenous Health at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre and BC Children's Hospital since 2015 and, at the end of June, she will be moving on to a full‐time faculty position as Assistant Teaching Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Victoria. This is her story and her parting words as she moves to the next chapter in her career.
Jenny is from the Gitxsan First Nations, Clan member of the Lax Gibuu fr Anspayaxw + Gitwangax and holds a Masters in Social Work from the University of Victoria and Doctorate in Education from the University of Western Ontario. Her late mother was in social work and she was a role model who guided Jenny to where she is now. She recalls, right out of high school, her parents believed in her and encouraged her not to give up.
"Knowing that they made so many sacrifices for me to have this opportunity, it felt like something that I needed to do," says Jenny.
In 2010, Jenny started working directly with patients and families as a patient navigator at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre. She then worked in the community with other health authorities and returned in 2015 to become the first Director of Indigenous Health at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre and BC Children's Hospital.
Jenny recalls, "I felt I had gained a lot of experience, knowledge and education in my time away, so it felt like I was coming back full circle."
Reflecting on her years, there have been challenges and highlights. Last November 2020, when the In Plain Sight report came out, Jenny said, "a lot of that information wasn't new to myself or my program. We experience racism directly and with our patients and families in all the systemic barriers and challenges that we have to navigate. It was validating and important to start hearing more conversations about how to address and change the system."
BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre hosted a totem
pole unveiling ceremony on November 16, 2016, in dedication to its new
Indigenous Outdoor Sacred Healing Space.
One highlight that Jenny has particular fond memories of was her first project in this role, which was to strengthen the sacred space and commission a totem poll, a woman warrior, outside of Entrance 77. An honouring ceremony for PHSA Indigenous Health Executive Director Cheryl Ward was hosted at this location. The totem poll artist was from Cheryl's nation and the woman warrior represents leading this work for Indigenous people and Indigenous cultural safety.
"One of the fond memories was being able to have ceremony, gathering and honouring at this site," says Jenny.
When Jenny started in her role, they were a team of three, and throughout her time as director, she has grown the team, adding four new positions. Through Jenny's leadership, and with the support of the Ministry of Health, Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) and the First Nations Health Authority, this team is better able to serve patients and families.
"Some families face complex medical needs and may be coming back and forth to the hospitals," says Jenny. "Many of them come from rural or remote communities or very rarely travel to Vancouver, and some are local peoples. Our team will stay connected with them and support them each time they are getting discharged back to the community."
At BC Children's Hospital, in the main lobby of
the Teck Acute Care Centre, team members created a memorial to honour
the 215 Indigenous children on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc.
On reflecting on the recent tragedy of the 215 Indigenous children on Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc territory, Jenny shares, "It's a time to really pause and reflect on what this means. Many of us have family members that attended residential school and their stories (that were heard during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada) are often described as open wounds that need healing. For non-Indigenous peoples, there is so much history and about settlers and settler society that many weren't taught. This is a chance to reflect on that and to start identifying what someone can do - in their capacity - where they are."
Jenny reminds us that what happens next has to be thought about in the context of what is meaningful for Indigenous peoples, including: Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, recommendations from the In Plain Sight report, and Calls for Justice in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
"It's a time for people to really understand that these reports exist and it's the collective voice of Indigenous peoples," says Jenny. "These are starting places to think about how people intersect with these recommendations and how they can take action or begin advocating for change."
When it comes to health services, Jenny highlights that one of the recommendations from the In Plain Sight report is promoting a "speak-up" culture.
"There is racism happening everyday. It's overt and covert and also exists in terms of how policies and programs are created structurally and systemically."
Jenny advises that we need to hear what Indigenous peoples are saying and to hold space for those Indigenous voices.
When asked about her parting wishes for the future of BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre, BC Children's Hospital and PHSA, Jenny's words are encouraging:
"Things are going in the right direction," she says. "PHSA is pushing for a 'speak-up' culture that is supported by policies for anti-racism and anti-indigenous racism. It's all of our responsibility to reflect on, 'when I witness racism, what stops me from speaking up?'" Jenny says. "Leaders recognize that this work requires action, and they're committed to that and taking steps in that direction. I'm glad that I was able to be a part of contributing to that change."