Skip to main content

Nurses Week 2020 – In recognition of Indigenous Nurses Day May 14


Caption: Indigenous nurses being honored at Gathering Wisdom conference in January 2020

What an incredible year 2020 is to be celebrating International Year of the Nurse and Midwife (WHO) and Canada's National Nurses week and Indigenous Nurses day on Thursday, May 14. This year, amid the COVID -19 pandemic, brought into sharp focus how valuable our nurses are to the health care system. This is especially true for the First Nations, Metis and Inuit nurses working in Canada today. Indigenous nurses bring an extraordinary understanding of health-care issues and cultural safety to the care of people in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities in BC and across Canada.

More Indigenous nurses are needed in all areas of health care across Canada and within VCH where recruitment is ongoing. Below we are sharing three stories of Indigenous VCH nurses. Into their roles they bring their Indigenous culture, teachings and/or worldview. Often they are leading the way of a health care change for their families, communities and nations. To them and all the Indigenous nurses in Canada and around the world – we thank you for your dedication and caring to the well- being of all people when they need it most.

The following three staff responded to these questions to offer their insights:

  1. Describe how your Indigenous culture, teachings and / or worldview influences your work and the care you provide?

  2. What is one thing all nurses can do that would help to improve the health of Indigenous peoples?

  3. In what ways can Indigenous nurses encourage and support other Indigenous people to become nurses? 

Meet Tracy Vernelli

I am Anishinaabe from the Thessalon First Nation's band in Ontario and have worked for VCH for four years as a primary care RN at Ravensong Community Health Clinic. I also work as a casual RN with two other VCH Community Health Centers (CHCs) - Downtown and Three Bridges.

I acknowledge the health inequities faced by Aboriginal peoples in Canada as a result of colonization and how the social determinants influence health inequities and access to care. Prior to becoming a nurse, I worked for a housing organization in the DTES for many years. While doing this work, I decided to become an RN in order to be part of the change in creating and providing equity based healthcare to Indigenous peoples……. my people. 

I read an article recently, written by David Suzuki about COVID-19 and he quotes B.C.'s Indigenous peoples saying “We're all in the same canoe and we have to paddle together if we want to reach our goal." It reminded me of Reconciliation and the goal of building a new relationship between Indigenous people and all Canadians. I think all nurses share a goal of improving relationships and health outcomes for Indigenous peoples, and one thing they can do is to provide healthcare that echo's that saying. We need to look to Indigenous peoples for guidance and direction as to what their healthcare should look like. 

As we know, it is the supports and encouragement early in life that can have a greater effect. However, I think mentoring programs, speaking at schools, and becoming involved with Indigenous youth organizations are all ways that we could explore in order to encourage more Indigenous people to become nurses. When I was in nursing school, I did a practicum with an Indigenous nurse. She was very encouraging and believed in the bond that Indigenous nurses shared. Though out my schooling I often reflected on my experiences with her as she provided mentorship based on her experience as an Indigenous nurse. This was very meaningful to me. 

Meet Priscilla Taipale

Earlier this year during the annual Gathering Wisdom conference of all BC First Nations health leadership all of the nurses along with traditional healers and care providers were honored with a traditional blanketing ceremony. The blanket is meant to be protective for their life journey. Priscilla Taipale, the Regional Practice Lead for VCH Aboriginal Health, was one of the nurses honored during the ceremony. 

Priscilla brings an Indigenous perspective to health and wellness through her Mushkegowuk Cree heritage and upbringing in Northern Ontario. She was born and raised in the remote, James Bay Lowlands community of Moosonee. This community in Treaty 9 Territory, is often referred to as “the gateway to the Artic" and as a member of the Taykwa Tagamou First Nations, she spent her childhood learning about the land by hunting, fishing, trapping with her family.  

She is an RN with 16 years of experience in cardiac, critical care and emergency at VGH, and she is currently working towards completing her PhD in Nursing at UBC in 2020. Priscilla joined the VCH Aboriginal Health team from her previous role as Clinical Nurse Specialist for the Cardiac Sciences Program where she participated in the VGH Cultural Safety Pilot Project and learned about the excellent work of our AH team and how we work with leaders and service providers across the health system to create culturally safe, quality, healthcare for Indigenous people.

As the Aboriginal Health Regional Practice Lead, Priscilla will use her acute care experience, research and quality improvement training, to provide consultative advice during the development of nursing and allied health practice projects. Priscilla can assist teams to incorporate an Indigenous lens when creating guidelines, policy, and standards for evidence informed best practices. She will support teams at VGH to embrace and embed the VCH Indigenous Cultural Safety policy in patient care initiatives.

Meet Jessica Key

My name is Jessica Key (Kwanxwalaogwa) and I am Musgamaugw Dzawada'enuxw (located near Campbell River on Vancouver Island) and Irish/British. I'm an RN undertaking my Masters of Science in Nursing at UBC. I am the Indigenous RN Councillor with the Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC and the BC Nurses Union Indigenous Leadership Circle representative for the Coastal region. I work in mental health, primarily youth concurrent disorders.

I grew up away from my Musgamaugw Dzawada'enuxw roots and community and for a long time, I felt like I was playing catch up with regards to my identity. I've put in some work to learn and connect with my community and it was ultimately wanting to be of service to my community that led me to nursing.

I've strived to honour that influence and that serves as a foundation for my professional goals as well as the care I provide. I believe that our traditional laws and values do guide how I understand and undertake my work. For instance, the value that all life is interconnected and we are all intrinsically tied to each other and to the land helps me to understand the importance of holistic care and addressing issues relating to the social determinants of health because health and illness do not occur without context. Values of caring and dignity guide how I incorporate trauma-informed practice, harm reduction, and radical respect into my practice, especially working with populations facing stigma and challenges accessing safe care.

Through training or education nurses have the opportunity to gain an understanding of the ways in which health care and nursing have contributed to the mistreatment of Indigenous people. Changing this can look like challenging our own biases and enacting cultural safety in all of the care we provide. It can look like challenging and questioning attitudes, policies, and practices that continue to harm Indigenous people in health care. It can look like understanding the social determinants of Indigenous health and how colonialism has impacted every aspect of the lives of Indigenous peoples. This will begin to improve the health care experiences of Indigenous people.

Recruitment and retention of Indigenous nurses is a real need! Tell your nieces and nephews about what a rewarding career nursing can be and how varied it is! We need Indigenous nurses on the front lines, in management, in academia, and in research and policy. We carry a lot of responsibility - in our communities, families, and in our profession as Indigenous nurses - and we can support each other and support new and prospective nurses to love this profession too!

SOURCE: Nurses Week 2020 – In recognition of Indigenous Nurses Day May 14 ( )
Page printed:

Copyright © Vancouver Coastal Health. All Rights Reserved.