Indigenous

First Nations nurses find inspiration and reward in serving Indigenous communities

Throughout the month of June, CBC Indigenous is introducing you to some of the health care workers who are keeping our communities safe. 

'One day that could be me laying in that bed and I would want the best care possible'

Danielle Bourque-Bearskin has been working for the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch as a public health nurse in Sandy Lake First Nation, a remote fly-in reserve in northwestern Ontario. (Danielle Bourque-Bearskin/Facebook)

Throughout the month of June, CBC Indigenous is introducing you to some of the health care workers who are keeping our communities safe. 

Here are two First Nations health care workers sharing some insight on what they do, why they do it and how COVID-19 is affecting them.

Danielle Bourque-Bearskin

Since May 20, Danielle Bourque-Bearskin has been working for the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch under Indigenous Services Canada as a public health nurse in Sandy Lake First Nation, a remote fly-in reserve in north-western Ontario.

She started work in Sandy Lake as part of a response to the need for surge capacity in health care in First Nations communities and helping communities respond to COVID-19. 

Prior to that, she was working as a frontline ICU nurse in Hamilton. 

"Answering that call to go into nursing was very instinctual for me," she said.

Bourque-Bearskin is from Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Alberta and her mother is also a nurse. She said when she thinks about why she went into the profession, she thinks about her Indigenous family and the experiences they had growing up. 

"My coming up here, it's just solidified everything that I've been learning and I've been advocating for in the last several years," she said.

The health inequities that Indigenous people experience in access to health care is an issue that she wants to use her voice to bring attention to.

"We have been talking about these inequalities, inequities, health disparities for decades," she said. 

"It's just the fact that nobody's been listening."

Housing, food security and clean water are all social determinants of health that affect Indigenous communities. Bourque-Bearskin said these factors make pandemic planning different in remote communities than in southern regions. 

"How do you teach hand hygiene when you don't even have access to clean water?" she said.

"I grew up knowing that this is happening and wanting to change it." 

Laurie Whitebean

'My goal was to bring back skills to the community and work with my people,' says Laurie Whitebean from Kahnawake, Que. (Submitted by Laurie Whitebean)

Laurie Whitebean has been a licensed practical nurse at Kateri Memorial Hospital in Kahnawake, Que., for two years. 

She works overnight and day shifts in the in-patient department. 

"My goal was to bring back skills to the community and work with my people," she said.

"It's very rewarding." 

She said there's a sense of fulfilment that comes from working in her own community because she's able to give back. 

"One day that could be me laying in that bed and I would want the best care possible," said Whitebean. 

In long-term care, what people contributed to their community and the influence they had can be forgotten, said Whitebean. 

"Our goal is not to forget," she said. "It's to celebrate their lives and appreciate that." 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, family members haven't been able to visit the patients. Whitebean said she would run into people in the community who would ask how their family members were doing. So she had an idea to start taking short videos to reassure people that their loved ones were all right. 

Other nurses began to take on the filming as well and there was an anonymous donation of iPads given to the patients so they could have video chats with family members.

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