By: Mercedes Stemm, Program Assistant, Indigenous Health in Medicine, Dalhousie BSc in Neuroscience/Indigenous Studies Student
Kwe’! National Nursing Week 2021 began on Monday, May 10th/2021 and ends on Sunday, May 16th/2021. Today, we’re celebrating our Indigenous Nurses, and showcasing a handful of extremely talented and accomplished nurses. This week, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview some of our Indigenous nurses and ask them what being an Indigenous nurse means to them.
Allyssa LeRoy is a proud Mi’kmaq woman from We’koqma’q First Nation. She graduated from Dalhousie University, and is currently working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the IWK Health Centre.
“To me being an indigenous nurse means that I can not only give back to my own community by gaining all of this newfound knowledge and experience, I am also able to utilize a two-eyed seeing approach to bring an indigenous lens to a westernized healthcare system”
Courtney Pennell is a Mi’kmaq woman from Gold River, Acadia First Nation. She graduated from StFx in 2014 with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and is currently a Master of Science in Nursing (MScN) student with an expected graduation date in Spring of 2023. In addition, she is presently working as the IWK Indigenous Health Consultant, and prior to that she spent the last 6 years specializing in Paediatric Oncology, Hematology, and Nephrology at the IWK on the inpatient unit.
“Being an Indigenous nurse is one of my biggest and proudest achievements. Because Canada’s history and thus society, is built on a systemically racist foundation, due to colonialist perspectives, systemic violence, cultural assimilation, and essentially genocide, my people weren’t supposed to excel, let alone obtain post-secondary achievements or work their way up to leadership positions.
However, the seeds of my ancestors are strong and resilient, and I am paving the way for future generations of Lnu’s to become whatever they want to become- because we too, are just as intelligent if not more intelligent than the average person as we are genetically equipped with Indigenous world views, and thus possess an entirely different lens when it comes to healthcare in a way that is more wholisitc and sound. The time has come where Indigenous populations need to take a stance and join the movement of closing the gaps of the long-standing health inequities that our people are faced with. Not only are we capable, but we are also deserving, alive and well! I can’t wait for the day when we have an Indigenous wellness clinic that is fully led and staffed by Indigenous folks right in the heart of K’jipuktuk (Halifax).“
Lucinda Gould is a Mi’kmaq woman from We’koqma’q First Nation. She graduated from Dalhousie University with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
“To me, being an Indigenous nurse means acknowledging the unique and different lived experiences of our fellow indigenous peoples. By this, we are working towards meeting the needs of our people and helping to improve their health and wellness.”
Dawn Googoo is a Mi’kmaq woman from Waycobah (We’koqma’q) First Nation. She graduated from StFx with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and is currently a part-time Master of Nursing student at Dalhousie University. She recently started a newly formed casual position as the Interim indigenous Advisor for undergraduate students in the School of Nursing.
“Being an Indigenous Nurse to means I have a unique skill that is important to recognize in this profession. I am able to give care and pride to my First Nation community and I am also able to break barriers in structures where Indigenous awareness is needed. I love this profession and I want to see more Indigenous nurses in the structures where changes need to be made.
As an undergraduate student, I had many struggles in school. It took me 7 years to complete my nursing program. Previously, I served in the Canadian Armed Forces as a medic and suffer from PTSD. Along with that I was struggling with reading and writing, as I did when I was younger. I got support from the Center for Accessible Learning and was tested for a learning (dis)ability. After a psychoeducational assessment, I was found to meet the criteria for a learning disability. On my journey to success, I discovered many ways to learn, where to go for support, how to use resources and much more. I shared my experience and knowledge with new Indigenous students coming to university, hoping to encourage and support other students.
After graduation, I worked at a hospital close to my community. With this experience I realized how crucial it was for there to be more Indigenous health care workers. I got involved with learning more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and the Calls to Action for health. I came to realize that I need to continue to support and advocate for Indigenous people to be successful in the health professions. Continued collaboration with communities, students, professionals and universities is vital.”
Athanasius Sylliboy (also known as Tana’s, which is Mi’kmaw for Athanasius) is a Mi’kmaq man from Eskasoni First Nation, located in Unama’ki (Cape Breton). He obtained his Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Cape Breton University in 2015, and his Master of Nursing from Dalhousie University in 2020. He is currently working as a Mi’kmaw Nurse Practitioner in Millbrook First Nation.
“Being Indigenous in Nursing is a role that represents many generations of continued resilience, advocacy, leadership, and healing for our communities. We need to continue recognizing the achievements, and contributions of Indigenous people in modern medicine, as we had many centuries of doctors, nurses and researchers, all of which went by different names. The most meaningful part for me is the utilization of my language. There is a layer of connection, understanding, and comfort in speaking, and understanding Mi’kmaw in the provision of care throughout the lifespan. As a Mi’kmaw, and a nurse, I get to interweave Indigenous and Western world views and ways of knowing to improve the lives of others. Each one of us in this unique role represents a small stepping stone in the bridge to reconciliation and transforming the health of our people, communities, and future generations.”
Julie Francis is a Mi’kmaq woman from Eskasoni First Nation. She graduated from StFx with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and is continuing to pursue her Master of Nursing degree at Dalhousie University. She is currently working at as the Community Health Nurse at the Eskasoni Health Centre and is also a Research Nurse at ACHH/IWK.
“Being an Indigenous Nurse means a lot to me, it’s an honor to practice nursing in my own community.
It means I’m part of a growing family of Lnu nurses who are breaking barriers for one another, including our future Nurses. We’ve been through a lot to make it to this point, and we celebrate one another and raise each other up.
It also means we dismantle barriers to health care for our indigenous communities by not only providing culturally safe care to our clients, also by promoting, protecting, and advocating for anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion in culturally safe policies, programs, and patient care.
It means decolonization. During my journey as a Nurse and student in the MScN program at Dal I’ve come to realize that I’m contributing to decolonizing nursing research, how we think about the early years and even decolonizing my own education.”