On April 10, we recognize the inaugural BC Indigenous Nurses Day in honour of Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture. Born on April 10, 1890, Charlotte was the first Indigenous person in Canada to become a registered nurse.
In many ways, nurses are the heart of the health-care system. Their role extends far beyond the job description—they listen, they advocate; they protect us in our most vulnerable moments. As beautifully diverse as British Columbia is, representation in health care is even more vital. Not only to expand our minds, but to make seeking care safer for all, and to improve health outcomes. Today, we celebrate and recognize Indigenous nurses across PHSA who are helping to create a more culturally safe health-care system.
A descendant of the Kaska Dene Nation from Liard River, Lower Post and member of the wolf clan, Anne oversees clinical operations for BC Cancer Prince George.
"I became a nurse due to my passion for supporting others and wanting to make a positive change in health care for patients of all demographics," she says. "Each day, I strive to create a climate for continuous enhancement and creativity aimed at systematic change."
Because of her Indigenous culture, Anne says she is keenly aware of the social determinants that influence health inequity. When it comes to promoting safer care for Indigenous patients, families and staff, Anne encourages other nurses to lead with openness and curiosity. "Don't make assumptions and let the patient lead their care," she says.
For Anne, Indigenous Nurses day is a reminder of her ancestors' hard work and how far Indigenous people have come to have a voice in health care and self-governance.
"It's important to ensure my people are taken care of in regards to cultural safety and equity. I understand we have a long way to go, but I am proud to be on this journey and I know my ancestors are as well."
A First Nations member from Gwichya Gwich'in, Lori has worked in oncology for 18 years and loves that she still learns something new every day.
"I had not considered becoming a nurse until I had my children and saw firsthand what nurses do. There are so many aspects to nursing: teaching, problem-solving, assessing, counselling, coordinating, mentoring, and navigating. I take pride in knowing that I'm able to help patients and their families during their toughest times and help make their journey a little better," she says.
When it comes to acknowledging the challenges that Indigenous people face in Canada's health-care system, Lori says that awareness and education are key to promoting safer, inclusive care. She believes programs like PHSA's San'yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training are a great resource for staff.
"This training sheds light on the challenges Indigenous people have faced and continue to face today," she says, adding that she thinks nurses can also promote safer care by being respectful in how they approach Indigenous people. "Small things such as shaking hands and making small talk can go a long way. Understanding cultural beliefs can also guide care."
"I am so proud that there has been a day set aside to recognize Indigenous nurses. We bring a perspective to health care that helps to make our people feel safe in the system. Becoming a nurse, for me, was a great challenge and a great accomplishment. I am honoured to have a day where I can acknowledge this accomplishment and those of other Indigenous nurses."
As a Sťuxtéwsemc (Secwépemc) and Ukrainian/Sicilian settler who was raised and currently resides in unceded Secwépemc'ulucw, specifically T'Kemlups te Secwépemc, colonially known as Kamloops, Rose works collaboratively with leaders across PHSA to advance the development, implementation, and evaluation of strategic anti-Indigenous racism initiatives, programs, and projects.
Rose first became interested in nursing after stepping into a caregiver role for her Kyé7e (grandmother). She then went on to earn her bachelor's in nursing from Thompson Rivers University (TRU) and recently completed a master's degree in nursing with a focus on Indigenous nursing leadership and research. While formal education is important to her, Rose says her greatest teachings and learnings have come from her family, community and Nation.
For Rose, Indigenous Nurses Day is about honouring, uplifting and amplifying the collective voices of Indigenous nurses.
"Despite the numerous reports that highlight systemic racism and the inequities in health care that exist for Indigenous peoples, very little has changed," she says.
"I urge all nurses to hone critical and anti-Indigenous racism knowledge, as well as to talk about and challenge racism in the practice setting in ways that promote speak-up culture and social justice," adding that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls for Action and the In Plain Sight Report are great resources to support this important work.
"It's also important to recognize the value of Indigenous healing practices and prioritize human rights and anti-racism," she says. "We play a critical role in the health-care system to create safety in the clinical encounter, reduce barriers to accessing health services and bring forward action-oriented approaches to influence and impact systemic change."
As a mixed Indigenous and White individual with Mi'kmaq and European ancestry, Dawn became a nurse to support people through their health-care journey and says her calling is to address harmful and ongoing inequities related to anti-Indigenous racism.
With a background in medical and palliative care, Dawn now works to support policy and advocacy work and was drawn to PHSA's Indigenous Health team because of their work to bring cultural safety training to health-care professionals across the province.
"The term 'cultural safety' was first introduced by Dr. Irihapeti Ramsden, a Maori nurse who witnessed anti-Indigenous racism in all areas of the health-care system. She coined the concept to mitigate harm in colonial contexts, explaining that cultural safety analyzes societal power imbalances and ideals of self-determination and decolonization," explains Dawn. "It's important that we develop knowledge and awareness of colonization and Indigenous-specific stereotyping and racism from a systemic lens."
"Indigenous nurses have been at the forefront of care for Indigenous Peoples since contact and have been instrumental in improving the health-care system. While their work is often unseen, Indigenous Nurses Day is an opportunity to celebrate the knowledge, impact and contribution of Indigenous nurses to improve services, care and wellness across British Columbia."
She believes nurses at PHSA have a unique opportunity as one of the largest bodies of health professionals, provincially and nationally, to make an impact on the system and implement Indigenous cultural safety at all levels.
As a nurse, mother, member of the Secwépemc Nation, and senior practice leader of the Chee Mamuk team with the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), Judy Sturm is constantly inspiring and bettering the lives of everyone around her. After her calling as a nurse, Judy graduated from the University of Victoria in 1997 and is enjoying a diverse career working in everything from emergency rooms to non-profit organizations.
"If you have a special gift, or if you know what your purpose is, you have a responsibility," says Judy.
Today, Judy is using her gift for healing to work towards bettering health education and wellness for all Indigenous people. As part of the Chee Mamuk team, Judy is helping take the feedback and recommendations provided by Indigenous community members and to create a more culturally safe environment for Indigenous clients in BCCDC's various clinics. Judy and her team cover a wide range of issues like Hepatitis C, sexually transmitted infections, HIV, mental health, and substance use. Judy's latest project involves creating a cannabis curriculum for Indigenous communities who are seeking to educate their fellow community members. "It's training the trainer," says Judy.