Past, present and future Indigenous nurses celebrated

 Indigenous Nurses Day 2024

The long history and accomplishments of Indigenous nurses—past, present and future—were celebrated on Indigenous Nurses Day last week at a special event at Na-tsa-maht Gathering Place at the Camosun Lansdowne campus.

The University of Victoria and Camosun College nursing program came together on April 10 to mark the historic day that celebrates the birth of Edith Monture, the first Indigenous nurse in Canada, and Rose Casper, the first Indigenous nurse in Western Canada. This year’s theme recognized how BC Indigenous nurses are “Transforming Lives: Rooted in Healing, Nurtured by Wisdom.”

UVic School of Nursing Assistant Teaching Professor Leanne Kelly spoke about the legacies of five BC nurses honored, including Sadie Underwood, Tsawout First Nation Elder and licensed practical nurse graduate from 1965;  Barb Hulme, retired registered nurse, veteran and Metis Elder;  Judith Gohn, Cowichan First Nation member and retired registered nurse and former health director; Monique Pat, T’Souke First Nation member and current Indigenous liaison nurse with Island Health; and Doreen Peter, retired community health representative, Cowichan First Nation Elder and long-time health advocate.

“The history of Indigenous nurses in Canada is one we should be so proud of. It’s intergenerational, it spans our parents, great grandparents. Many of our ancestors were healers,” Kelly says.

Hulme, who is also a Metis Elder at First Peoples House at UVic, says Indigenous Nurses Day has an important role to play, comparing it to Indigenous Veterans Day. In a recent interview with Eagle Andersen, she says Indigenous healthcare will need to continue to grow.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do… you have to crawl, you take one step forward, you fall down, you pick yourself up and you carry on,” she said.

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UVic Nursing Associate Professor Lisa Bourque Bearskin, a Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) Indigenous Health Nursing Research Chair, spoke to a group of current graduate nursing students. The 16 students recently completed a foundational course in Indigenous wellness research at UVic as part of a new multi-partner Indigenous Nursing master’s program.

“These students have been transformed by the impact of having access to amazing Indigenous leaders, and scholars who have carved the way forward for us,” Bourque Bearskin says. “This new generation of nurses get to not only rewrite the history of Indigenous health but hold up the rights of our healers, helpers and leaders.”

Those present also celebrated the reading of a proclamation in the BC Legislature, which officially recognized April 10 as Indigenous Nurses Day. The proclamation honoured the contributions of Indigenous nurses and called on the BC government and health system partners to recommit to taking action to address anti-Indigenous racism and creating equitable health care experiences for Indigenous people.

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Each of the graduate nursing students present stood and spoke about the importance of the past year.

“It’s transformed how I show up in the world and in my life in my work and practice,” says Meghan Tetrault, a UBCO Métis student.

To see a full gallery of photos, visit Camosun College’s Flickr page.

Image credits: Camosun College.