As part of Indigenous Awareness weeks at McGill University (September 16-27), the Ingram School of Nursing, in collaboration with Global and Indigenous Health Nursing (GAIHN – McGill), is proud to highlight Indigenous Nurses connected to the McGill community and the work they do.

By Oscar Morales Lopez, Ingram School of Nursing 

An emphasis of GAIHN-McGill is underlining that global health is about both local and worldwide health improvement, recognizing the health disparities that exist for many populations, including Indigenous people in Canada and reducing those disparities. To learn more about GAIHN-McGill click here.

The following five stories capture the essence of efforts to improve health equity in Indigenous communities here in Quebec. Working in various locations across the province, each of these nurses share a commitment to arduous academic work, as well as exceptional expertise and experience they bring to the Indigenous communities they serve.

Meghan Eaker – Cree Nurse and Graduate Student

Why did you choose to become a nurse?

After high school, I took a year off to travel and while in India I met a couple of nurses. I had never thought that nursing could be done outside the hospital. Learning about the possibility that, as  a nurse, I could promote health while working with diverse communities made me consider it as a career.

What is your current role?

After working at the Montreal Children’s Hospital as a child psychiatric nurse I decided to go back to school to try to help me understand and better respond to the types of mental health issues I was seeing in my practice that disproportionately affected Indigenous youth. I am currently working on my Master’s of Nursing in Global Health with a particular focus on Indigenous health. This includes doing research and clinical work in Kuujjuaq, an Inuit village in Nunavik. After I finish my Master’s degree I hope to be able to find a job where I can work to promote the health of Indigenous people, so there are many options!

How does your role impact Indigenous health?

My research focuses on developing capacity for Indigenous nursing. I believe that health for Indigenous people is strongly related to self-determination and has been negatively affected by processes like colonization, which undermine this inherent right. There are many ways to work towards decolonization and improved health of Indigenous peoples and one of these is through education. I have seen what it means for a Cree family struggling to support a sick loved one to have a Cree nurse caring for them. I hope that my work will help increase the numbers of Indigenous nurses and other health care professionals and create a culture of healthcare that is safer for Indigenous peoples.

Glenda Sandy – Naskapi-Cree Nurse

Why did you choose to become a nurse?

From a very young age, I always wanted to become a nurse. I was always fascinated by the inner workings of the human body and the science behind it. I wasn’t intrigued by the emergency “saving lives” aspect of it as much as I was with the connections and relationships that can be developed. I wanted to help and offer comfort to people. I loved the fact that nursing offered many different ways to make a difference. It has certainly opened a lot of doors in my own professional and personal development.

What is your current role?

I am currently a Nurse Advisor in the Infectious Disease program of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, Public Health Department. We are working towards eliminating tuberculosis in Nunavik. My role, specifically, is in developing a training program for community health agents, with the goal towards increasing local presence in health promotion and prevention activities. It is a role I love because it allows me to contribute to the wellbeing of Nunavik communities through local capacity building. I enjoy the relationships I have developed with the people I meet and I hope that they continue to flourish for the benefit of each community. I am also involved with McGill University as an Associate Member, contributing my knowledge and experience to the [Ingram School] of Nursing’s efforts towards the development of ethically sound curriculum content.

How does your role impact Indigenous health?

I make it a priority to decolonize health and health interventions in my contributions to proposed activities in these areas. I think it’s important to take into consideration how certain ways of doing things that may work at large may not be appropriate in the context of Indigenous communities. I hope that the knowledge I share will impact others and perhaps change come perspectives.

Sophie Martel – Innu Nursing Instructor and Course Lecturer

Pourquoi as-tu choisi de devenir infirmière?

J’ai choisi de devenir infirmière parce que cette profession me permettait de prendre soin et d’accompagner les personnes, les familles et les communautés. J’aimais l’idée de pouvoir intervenir dans différents contextes et d’adapter mes interventions selon les besoins spécifiques de la clientèle sous mes soins.

Quel est ton rôle maintenant dans la profession?

L’expérience que j’ai acquise à exercer ma profession dans différents secteurs me permet de transférer mes connaissances tout en poursuivant mes réflexions concernant les meilleures pratiques infirmières. Je souhaite pouvoir partager la passion que j’ai pour cette profession tout en contribuant à enrichir son savoir.

Quel est l’impact de ton rôle sur la santé des Autochtones?

J’ai l’immense plaisir d’accompagner des étudiants dans la communauté où ils ont l’occasion de côtoyer, entre autres, des personnes des Premières Nations. Cette opportunité leur permet d’entendre nos histoires et nos traditions. Je suis d’avis que ce rapprochement, par le dialogue, puisse aider à réduire la stigmatisation pouvant être véhiculée dans chacune des cultures.

Valerie Daibo – Mohawk Nursing Director

Why did you choose to become a nurse?

My name is Valerie Karonhiano:ron Diabo, I’m a Mohawk woman from Kahnawake and I am part of the Turtle clan. My nursing career started in 1990, at the same time the Oka crisis began.

As a young child, I would sit and listen for hours as my grandmother spoke about how she took care of people in the Montreal General Hospital and how she helped deliver babies in our community. My grandmother was a role model to me from a very young age and she was the person who first inspired me to become a nurse. The other person who had an impact on my decision to become a nurse was my school nurse, as I recall how she was such a kind and caring person. Growing up I was always there for my friends and helped them in any way I could. I always knew I wanted to work in a field in which I helped people. I began my nursing career at St. Mary’s Hospital on a surgical l unit, and then returned home to work at Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre in the inpatient and outpatient care, home care, community health and infection prevention and control.

What is your current role?

Presently, I’m the Director of Community and Nursing Care at Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre. I oversee the quality of care for the Inpatient care, Outpatient care and Home Care services. My role is to network with partners within and outside the community, to help increase collaboration and create services that are needed. One of the important aspects of my role is to look for trends occurring in the health of the community. This is done by obtaining data and by listening to what is important to our people and what impacts their health in a holistic approach.

How does your role impact Indigenous health?

The community as a whole is always looking at ways to empower our people to live the best life they want to live, therefore my role involves advocating for programs that will impact the health of the Kahnawakero:non community.

Erin Patton – Mohawk Nurse

Why did you choose to become a nurse?

Since high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the health sciences/medical field. I completed CEGEP at Marianopolis College in health sciences. I was unsure of what I wanted to study in university, so I applied to a variety of different programs at Montreal’s universities, including nursing and pharmacology at McGill. I was happy to be accepted into nursing and was interested in the “hands-on” portion of the profession.

After having finished my undergraduate degree, I realize that giving back to my community was always at the back of my mind while choosing my area of study. The care provided by nurses in my community to family members who were sick was always superb and was very patient-family oriented. Being supported by my community during my post-secondary studies is what drove me to be a hardworking and dedicated student and I hoped to give my knowledge back to the community in the future.

What is your current role?

I am currently working in [the] Maternity [unit] as a candidate to the profession of nursing, at the Royal Victoria Hospital. I am writing my OIIQ (Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québeclicensing exam next week!

How does your role impact Indigenous health?

During my undergrad at McGill, I had the opportunity to take part in the Indigenous Health Professions Program and Eagle Spirit Science Futures Camp. As a new graduate nurse, I find it uplifting representing Indigenous peoples and knowledge in the medical profession, and providing a role model to younger Indigenous people who aspire to work in the field.

September 25 2019