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Because your voice matters.

A Tribute to Bill Blackwater Jr.

Posted • Last updated

Categories: News & Events, Patient Voice Mail

With great respect and admiration, we acknowledge the life and legacy of Gitxsan Hereditary Chief Sim’oogit Ma’os, Bill Blackwater Jr., from Kispiox, who passed away in July 2021. As a Patient Voices Network patient partner, Bill encouraged all health care providers, particularly physicians, to learn about the land and culture of the local people, to provide continuity of care and to always listen deeply.

In June 2020, we held our first All Nations Gathering virtually for Indigenous patient partners in the north. Bill and others shared how they contributed to health system change by drawing on their personal experiences and collaborating with health care partners. In April 2021, Bill was selected by his peers to speak to other Indigenous patients about his experiences volunteering with PVN. His story and message were very motivating.

“You were made for this,” Bill encouraged the group. “You know how to share your story to make a difference ‘for the greater good, for future generations.’”

In June 2021, Bill co-designed and co-chaired a What Matters to You in Culturally Safe Indigenous Patient Engagements? meeting. Indigenous patient partners were invited to discuss cultural safety, and health care partners were invited to attend as witnesses. We were grateful to have him start the meeting in a good way. After the meeting, he immediately checked in to see if we felt the meeting achieved its goals and to give us feedback. 

“Our message, beginning to improve the relationship between Indigenous patients and health care providers, was brought forward through the work of [the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council] and was successful,” he said. My biggest hope is that the witnesses and partners were convinced by the message to the extent that they continue seeking ways for their organizations to improve relationships with Indigenous patients through collaboration with BCPSQC.”

Bill suggested that we ask health care partners, “What makes you feel uncomfortable in leading patient engagements with Indigenous Peoples, and how can we help you with that?” While it seems obvious, it was a question and approach we hadn’t considered, and we plan to explore this idea in the near future. Bill had a tremendous ability to encourage and nudge us by making gentle suggestions. He also made a point to empower others by acknowledging and elevating their confidence.

For example, patient partner Cherie Mercer reflected on a moment when Bill boosted her contributions as a patient partner: “Bill declared he agreed with what I said and told me that I was the spokesperson!”

In addition to his recent contributions to PVN through the All Nations gatherings, Bill presented with Dr. Jacobus Fourie at Quality Forum 2021 in a session called Sharing My Story: How a Person- & Family-Centred Approach Impacted the Cancer Journey of a Northwest Indigenous Patient. His personal narrative highlighted the health care challenges in rural and remote communities and focused on how a physician’s approach towards person- and family-centred care and Indigenous cultural humility positively impacts Indigenous patients’ experiences.

He gave this presentation again a few weeks before his passing at Northern Health’s “Happy Hour” for Physician Quality Improvement. At this presentation, you could see and feel the emotion behind his gratitude to Dr. Fourie and the health care system for listening and walking beside him. The vulnerability and transparency with which he shared his story exemplified the genuineness and integrity of his character.

We extend deep condolences to the Blackwater family. Bill has unquestionably left his mark on patient engagement and helped us build bridges between Indigenous perspectives and the health care system.

Author: Cathy Almost, Engagement Leader, BCPSQC

From Our Community

Derek Koch

Spiritual Health Practitioner and Patient- and Family-Centred Care Lead — Kelowna General Hospital

Derek Koch

The bottom line is because we’re caring for patients. People who know best are those who are receiving the care so it makes logical sense that we would consult with them about their experiences. By connecting with PVN we have been able to educate our teams about the value of patient partners and how important their perspective is in our services.