This Is What I Wish You Knew

What I wish you knew tile

How can we understand what another person – or culture – has experienced?

Not having experienced the same, we can never know it completely. However, we can listen, seek to understand and respond with compassion. Even greater than the onus of any individual, the health system – with a responsibility to provide culturally safe, quality care – has a duty to do just that.

A group of health professionals from Nova Scotia Health Authority and the IWK Health Centre recently visited the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax for an introduction to a special initiative called This Is What I Wish You Knew.

The event, held the morning of Nov. 18, opened with a smudging ceremony, a tradition that cleanses the person and environment of negative energy with the smoke of sweet grass, sage, cedar and tobacco, which is sacred within the Indigenous community.

Debbie Eisan, elder for the Friendship Centre, led the smudging ceremony, then shared insights into a few important Aboriginal teachings. For example, she noted that the braid, which could be seen by many as a simple choice of hairstyle, is so much more in Aboriginal culture. 

“The three strands of hair represent body, mind and spirit,” she said. “When these three are woven together, they are much stronger than each is alone.”

Wellness navigator Maya Williams asked, “What do we, as health professionals, need to know to help us provide better care?”

Eisan shared the example that the Aboriginal culture tends to be direct in answering questions, not always elaborating on details. It’s important for health professionals to know that if they receive a direct answer such as “yes” or “no,” this simply reflects a difference in communication style. They may need to ask further questions to draw more information.

The morning culminated in an introduction to the art exhibit This is What I Wish You Knew, which brought together 50 urban Aboriginal community artists, youth, adults and elders to explore their individual and collective identities and develop the stories they wish others knew. The outcome of This Is What I Wish You Knew is a mural made up of 50 clay tiles.

This mural showcases the artists’ journeys, through individually made clay tiles linked to short films profiling each artist’s story. The purpose is to build understanding, create a space for dialogue, and lay the foundation for reconciliation.

Participants viewed the intricately crafted tiles, each telling a unique story. The story behind each tile can be found at

This three-hour introduction to Aboriginal culture is but one piece of a larger focus on understanding and celebrating diverse communities, said Anna Jacobs, Community Development Advisor working with diverse communities.

“Learning about Aboriginal culture and experiences in this city is a first step to taking action to address the health recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Report.”