Message from Dr. Janet Smylie

“Each time a child is born it represents not only the birth of an individual but an opportunity to rebirth our families, communities, and nations”

Jan Kahehti:io Longboat

Seventeen years ago I had the opportunity to start independent practice as a family physician at Anishnawbe Health Toronto as part of a health care team that included traditional teachers and healers. This is where I met Jan Kahehti:io Longboat, a Mohawk Elder and Traditional Counsellor. I was providing maternity care and attending births and quickly became concerned about the major health and social challenges facing many of the mothers and their infants. While this is a time where I believe my passion and commitment to reducing the inequities facing young Aboriginal families crystallized, it didn’t take long for me to begin to feel overwhelmed by it all. I decided to take tobacco to Jan and ask for her assistance. She told me that if I wanted to help the infants, I needed to think about the grandparents. She then shared the teaching that I have cited above.

Despite the crisis orientation of front line medical work, these seeds of wisdom were planted in my consciousness and over the years, with the ongoing advice and patience of many teachers, my abilities to truly understand and incorporate these teachings into the work that I do has slowly grown. I have learned that Grandparents play a central role in the lives of children in traditional Cree social systems; and that “what makes a baby well?” can be found in the web of relationships between babies, grandparents and other kin, and the lived environment.

I have also learned that there is an unfulfilled opportunity represented by each newborn baby to address and reverse the existing inequities in the determinants of Indigenous health and health status (including but not limited to the impacts of historic and multigenerational trauma, ongoing colonial policies, political marginalization, and racism) at both the individual and collective level. This became my most powerful motivator.

The Well Living House has been designed as a culturally secure space, with a solid foundation grounded in almost two decades of collaborative work between Indigenous health researchers, front line health practitioners, and Indigenous community grandparents.

Indigenous wisdom and experience, in the form of a Counsel of Grandparents, continues to be the foundation of the Well Living House. The strength of this foundation will support the frame/plan of the Well Living House and will be determined by our ability to come together across generations, across knowledge systems, across and beyond Indigenous nation identities and across community – institutional divides to collectively build a place of refuge and renewal. Working together in this good way will ensure that every infant is born into opportunity—individually and collectively.


Janet Smylie, Director of the Well Living House