On Indigenous Nurses Day, meet 2 women bringing First Nations perspectives to health care

Jaymie Bowers and Isabelle Wallace are two of the many nurses being celebrated on Indigenous Nurses Day during National Nursing Week.

'It's important to have those Indigenous health care workers that our people can actually relate to'

Isabelle Wallace is Wolastoqew from Madawaska Maliseet First Nation. She is currently working as a primary care nurse for the Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre in Nunavik (Kangiqsualujjuaq CLSC). (Tammy Leger)

A newly graduated Cree nurse is hoping to work in her home community of Norway House and inspire others to get involved in the Indigenous mental health field.

"I noticed when I was younger that there was a very obvious gap in mental health when it came to Indigenous care, so that's kind of where my passion comes from," said Jaymie Bowers, 25.

She is one of many nurses being celebrated on Indigenous Nurses Day during National Nursing Week.

Bowers grew up in Winnipeg and often went back and forth to her community of Norway House Cree Nation, about 450 kilometres north of Winnipeg. She recently graduated with a bachelor of science in psychiatric nursing from Brandon University.

Of the 40 nurses to graduate from this year's cohort at Brandon, Bowers thinks she might be the only First Nations nurse, although there are a few Métis nurses in the program.

She said Indigenous communities would benefit greatly from having more Indigenous psychiatric nurses in the field.

"Statistically speaking we have a very high percentage of mental health issues in Indigenous communities and we also have a very small amount of Indigenous people who provide that mental health care within our communities," said Bowers. 

Jaymie Bowers is a new graduate. She is hoping to work as a psychiatric nurse in her home community and she plans on becoming a psychiatrist. (Submitted)

She said that Indigenous world views are holistic and that the profession of psychiatric nursing would also benefit from having more Indigenous perspectives.

"I think that it's incredibly important to have those Indigenous health care workers that our people can actually relate to because there are lots of Indigenous people out there who need us to care for each other and to lift each other up and and build our communities," said Bowers.

'Our lens is different'

A 2018 report released by the University of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association said there are close to 10,000 Indigenous nurses in Canada.

During Manitoba's daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health gave a special shout out to Indigenous nurses.

"Throughout our province, Indigenous nurses are working as leaders, partners and tireless advocates, not just in First Nations communities but throughout the province," said Siragusa.

Isabelle Wallace, who has a master of science in nursing from the University of Ottawa, is Wolastoqew from Madawaska Maliseet First Nation in New Brunswick. She is working as a primary care nurse in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Que.

She said it's good to have people who understand the importance of community when it comes to Indigenous people and the health care system.

"Our lens is different," she said.

"We bring a post-colonial and anti-racist approach, so we integrate the legacy of colonization as well as trauma-informed care. That leads to having a non-biased approach," said Wallace.

Wallace said supporting Indigenous nurses will lead to better health outcomes for Indigenous communities.

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit for three years. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1