The walls are splashed with striking colours—purples, pinks, and oranges, swooping from corner to corner. Woodland animals sit on branches and rocks, each representing an important aspect of Indigenous culture. At the centre, stands a beautiful figure in the warrior pose, reaching towards the sky. It’s Makayla Sault, the young girl whose courageous battle led to the creation of this space.
Makayla’s room opens
On Tuesday, August 28th, Makayla’s Room—Mkoonhs Zonghehgii in the Anishnaabe language—was unveiled at McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH). Makayla’s family and friends gathered with leaders from the Indigenous community and the hospital to reflect on the journey that got them to this point, and celebrate an important step towards reconciliation.
In 2014, Makayla was diagnosed with Leukemia and came to MCH for treatment. Her decision to stop chemotherapy because of severe side effects became the centre of a heated national debate, which her family describes as traumatic. But she was firm in her decision and fought for her wishes, which were ultimately honoured. She bravely continued to receive both Western and Traditional Indigenous healthcare services. She died peacefully at her home on the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation in 2015.
“We had a chance to hang on to the bitterness and anger,” said Makayla’s mom, Sonya. “But we chose to let it go, and let Makayla lead us to what we needed to do.”
The journey Makayla started
Makayla led them on a journey with hospital and community leaders to create a greater respect for and understanding of the Indigenous way of knowing and being. That journey culminated in the opening of Makayla’s Room, located on the 3rd floor of MCH across from the PICU waiting room. Funded by the sale of Hamilton Health Sciences’ Inuit art collection, it features a small kitchenette, comfortable seating, activities for children and their families, as well as a space to store cultural supplies. The room will be available for use by all MCH families to learn about or participate in Indigenous culture.
“Makayla was an intelligent, athletic, and sensitive young girl and we miss her deeply. Our focus in creating this space has been to honour her life and educate others so that patients, families and health care providers can work together to provide culturally sensitive care,” said Sonya.
Dr. Peter Fitzgerald, President of MCH, has been a central part of this process. He says that the opening of Makayla’s room is a significant milestone in our path towards reconciliation, and he looks forward to continuing this work. “We are grateful to Makayla’s parents, Ken and Sonya Sault, and many other Indigenous community leaders who have provided guidance as we work to become a culturally aware, safe and welcoming place for Indigenous patients and their families.”
Continuing on the path to reconciliation
During Tuesday’s celebration, many speakers, including Chief Stacey Laforme of Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and Chief Ava Hill of Six Nations of the Grand River, acknowledged that Makayla was wise beyond her years, and without her, these important relationships may not have been forged. The chiefs, along with Ken and Sonya Sault and Dr. Peter Fitzgerald, signed a pledge to honour Makayla’s memory through continued reconciliation efforts. The pledge will hang in Makayla’s room, amidst her vibrant sunset and forest of animals, as a reminder of where this journey started, and where we are going.