St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver has unveiled a space for smudging and pipe ceremonies so their Aboriginal patients can receive traditional healing.

The All-Nations Sacred Space is an inclusive area designated for ceremonies where cedar, tobacco, sage, and sweetgrass are burned in an abalone shell and wafted with an eagle feather.

The ceremonies are important to Vancouver-based artist Dalannah Gail Bowen, a woman who's spent time at the hospital for drug addiction and a stroke.

“This is progressive, this is a first,” she said at an open house for the space Friday. “From personal experience, what I understand is that unless we heal ourselves internally... our healing isn’t really complete the way the Creator intended it.”

The smudging and pipe ceremonies are believed to provide clarity and cleansing physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

The space is decorated with Coast-Salish designed art, a rug, semi-circular benches and cedar-effect flooring. Providence Health Care has installed a ventilation system for the smoke.

St. Paul’s has also created an Aboriginal nurse practice leader position, to be held by Carol Kellman, the daughter of the first Cree woman to graduate from St. Paul’s Hospital School of Nursing. Patients will be connected with First Nations elders as part of their holistic health-care needs.

”My hope is that other hospitals and other centres where people gather to be healed and treated will take this model,” Bowen said.

According to Vancouver Coastal Health, on average, the health of Aboriginal people is significantly worse than non-Aboriginal people due to historical disadvantages. They die an average of seven years earlier, have an infant mortality rate two to four times higher than the general population, and psychiatric hospitalization is 50 to 100 per cent higher, among other indicators.

The health authority noted that improving the status of Aboriginal health also requires attention to root factors such as employment, income, and education.

The opening of the sacred space comes in conjunction with the National Aboriginal Day celebrations and the beginning of Vancouver’s Year of Reconciliation with First Nations people.