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The Beginning’s End

By Kristina Ljubanovic

Photo by Noah Melrose

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“Reconciliation is a process, and like a journey, it has a beginning,” said Dr. Glenn Pettifer in a monthly newsletter to registrants. Advancing Truth and Reconciliation efforts has been an important focus for the CDHO Registrar/CEO, leading to the relationship with artist Thomas Sinclair.

It’s business as usual at Hub 601 at 175 Bloor Street East, where the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario (CDHO) regulates about 15,000 registered dental hygienists in the province.

“We’re a powerful bunch,” said Suzanne Fox, Director of Corporate Services, of the CDHO’s small and mighty team.

In addition to channeling that power to protect the public’s right to safe and competent care, as of January 2022, under the leadership of Registrar/CEO Dr. Glenn Pettifer, the CDHO has also advanced reconciliation efforts, looking to the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada for guidance in doing so.

As a start and symbol of this effort, the CDHO purchased a painting by Turtle clan and Woodland style-trained artist Thomas Sinclair, who is a member of the Couchiching First Nation in Treaty 3 territory. The War Party hangs in the CDHO’s offices, overseeing and inspiring staff in their day-to-day.

Another work by Sinclair, The Shamen Gives Prophecy to the People, was purchased thereafter, which led the CDHO to commission the artist to coordinate a collaborative piece with Autumn Smith/Mishiikenh Kwe, an Anishinaabe artist from the Caribou clan in Magnetawan First Nation; Teddy Syrette, an Anishnabek 2-spirit queer storyteller and advocate from Batchewana First Nation; and Lucia Laford, an Anishinaabe artist from Sault Ste. Marie.

With its office located at the north end of Toronto’s 2SLGBTQIA+ Village and a registrant base that is 97 percent female, Fox said the CDHO hoped the collaborative effort would produce an artwork reflective of the Indigenous experience, and that could speak to the CDHO’s registrants and the local community.

The result – two canvases hung side by side – compositionally evocative of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam but with powerful, and female, underwater beings from the Ojibway culture in the place of the Judeo-Christian deity and first man, are layered with meaning, and visually visceral and resonant.

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The collaborative work is rich with meaning. According to the artists, referring to the figure on the left in particular: “Her belly is pregnant with a bear cub and a rainbow of flowers and butterflies and orbs. These are meant to show the life and vitality that grows from the trans population and for those that support them.”

The CDHO is producing a series of audio clips and videos that feature interviews with the artists and reveal the symbolism within the paintings. The hope is that the works can reach farther and touch more individuals than those within their sixth-floor office.

And that’s not all. The CDHO is engaged in several initiatives connected to Truth and Reconciliation, educating staff and registrants on the true history of Canada by providing free access to learning modules and courses.

“We felt it was important for hygienists to have a real understanding of the history of the Indigenous population,” said Fox, underscoring that for those who experienced health and dental care-related trauma as part of the residential school system, that gets passed on, “generation to generation.”

The CDHO has also partnered with the Indigenous charity Indspire to create a bursary – committing $80,000 per year for three years – that will be distributed to Indigenous students enrolled in an accredited dental hygiene program at an Ontario post-secondary institution. The bursary will address the need for Indigenous hygienists, “who can provide the best care for their community, understanding the history and the sensitivities that may come with it,” said Fox.

This September, in lieu of a workshop or formalized education (which they’ve done in previous years for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation), the CDHO is installing a land acknowledgement plaque outside its doors, sharing resources and, as Fox said, ever reflective, “touching in with our staff and saying, ‘What are we doing as individuals? What are we doing as an organization?’”

“Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts,” said Justice Murray Sinclair, former Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The CDHO has taken this to heart, committing to learning and understanding the history and experiences of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, forming those relationships and seeing the ripple effect from there.

“We felt it was important for hygienists to have a real understanding of the history of the Indigenous population.”

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