Inspiring a generation: Late nurse in Quebec's Cree territory remembered

Quebecoise nurse Simone Bernard Lameboy lost her battle with cancer in April, but her legacy lives on in the lives and careers of a new generation of Indigenous nurses in Cree territory.

Simone Bernard Lameboy's legacy touches many in Cree territory

Simone and Marie Claude Lameboy. Simone's life and legacy is being remembered on Indigenous Nurses Day. (Submitted by Marie-Claude Lameboy)

Marie-Claude Lameboy and Amy Diamond are living examples of the importance of Indigenous nursing, bringing culturally sensitive care to their community of Chisasibi in the James Bay region of Quebec.

They are also shining examples of the importance of mentorship.

Both women were mentored into the nursing profession by Simone Bernard Lameboy, a Quebecer who travelled to Cree territory from Abitibi in the 1960's, fell in love, married a local by the name of George Lameboy and raised 3 daughters — teaching more than a few people how to be great nurses along the way.

"She put a lot of emphasis on making them believe in themselves," said Marie-Claude Lameboy, who is also Simone's daughter.

Simone lost her battle with cancer in April after a 35-year career in Chisasibi.

Cree nurse Amy Diamond says Simone Lameboy took her under her wing and taught her what nursing is about. (Submitted by CBHSSJB)

"[It's] not because you have a paper that you graduated from nursing, [that] makes you a nurse," Lameboy said. 

"A nurse is [about] experience and it can be very scary. You are very insecure because you are dealing with lives. My mom had this role to encourage the girls. I think she did pretty good in guiding them that way."

A tribute to Simone on the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay website said she was "a mentor and a support to every person who worked at the [Chisasibi] Hospital."  It goes on to say that at least two, and possibly three generations of Chisasibi Eeyouch people "came into this world" with her help.

Amy Diamond was another Cree nurse Simone mentored.

"[Simone] took me under her wing," said Diamond, who is currently a team leader in emergency care at the Chisasibi Hospital. "She taught me a lot of things, not only what nursing is but a lot of helpful things like how to connect with your patients."

Diamond was one of was one of 23 Indigenous nurses from across Canada nominated for the 2017 First Nations and Inuit Health Branch Award of Excellence, given out this week as part of National Nursing Week.  

Today is Indigenous Nurses Day

The Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association has set aside May 11 as a day to recognize people like Diamond and Lameboy. The organization estimates there are over two thousand Indigenous nurses across Canada, but adds it's hard to really know how many there are because many don't self-identify as Indigenous, according to Lea Bill, president of the CINA.

"If you go into communities where Indigenous nurses are working, you will often find that community members have a preference of receiving care from an Indigenous nurse," said Bill. "Part of it is because of the cultural awareness and understanding of the people as a whole."

Lameboy says it's extremely important for more Indigenous people to get into nursing.

"When you take this job, it's a commitment to your community," said Lameboy.

"We need more stability. The services are just growing. I don't know how long we can continue to have people just come and leave. It creates a lot of chaos. For a better service we need our own people to go into the health field for the continuity of care."

Simone Bernard gives a first bath to Misty Shisheesh. (Submitted by Lameboy family)

Bill says Indigenous Nurses Day is also an opportunity to recognize the many non-Indigenous nurses and health care providers, like Simone Bernard Lameboy, who dedicate their careers to working in Northern communities.

Lameboy, who now works in maternal child health at the Awash Clinic in Chisasibi, says it was privilege to get to work alongside her mother for so long.

"She was a great mom," said Lameboy. "And a great nurse. If anybody out there has a chance to work with their mother, I think they should because it's a different relationship and we grow together."