Feb. 16, 2018

Faculty of Nursing's path toward Indigenization focuses on cultural safety, helping vulnerable populations

Indigenous Initiatives co-directors use Truth and Reconciliation Commission as springboard for change
Co-directors of the Indigenous Initiatives at the Faculty of Nursing, Heather Bensler, left, and Louise Baptiste are helping the faculty chart its Indigenous strategy.

Co-directors of the Indigenous Initiatives, Heather Bensler, left, and Louise Baptiste.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

When the Wellesley Institute study, "First Peoples, Second Class Treatment" was released in 2015, it suggested that racism against Indigenous people within Canada’s health-care system was "pervasive" and a contributor to substandard health among native people in Canada. This was far from a surprise to Louise Baptiste, co-director, Indigenous initiatives with the Faculty of Nursing. As a member of the Samson Cree Nation and a nurse educator with the Indigenous Health Team for Alberta Health Services, she had first-hand experience with unconscious bias among health professionals.

“My role is to teach health care providers provincially about the history of Indigenous people in Canada and to help them understand the need for cultural safety training when working with Indigenous clients,” explains Baptiste, who has also taught Bow Valley College students on the Siksika Nation and worked for the Indigenous Health Team at Alberta Health Services. With her new role at UCalgary, Baptiste hopes to carry her mission further by helping answer the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action for nursing schools. 

Baptiste’s colleague in the Faculty of Nursing, Heather Bensler, BN’96, co-director, Indigenous initiatives, shares similar sentiments. Although she doesn’t consider herself an expert in Indigenous health, Bensler spent three years working in South America with Indigenous communities, helping them to take control of, specifically, their eye care. “I have a passion for community health as well as undergraduate education,” she says. “When this opportunity came up to help the faculty chart their Indigenous strategy, I was excited and wanted to help.”

Cultural safety includes practices that recognize and respect the unique cultural identity of Indigenous people. The goal is to offer health care that protects and empowers them when they are ill and is a main component of what Baptiste and Bensler will be incorporating with their mandate. Baptiste’s role is student support and community outreach while Bensler is focused on curriculum and faculty development.

“I am currently doing a needs assessment; I see what has already been implemented with vulnerable populations within the undergraduate nursing curriculum is strong,” Bensler comments. “But we need to educate students — and the faculty who teach them — to recognize the unique community that this is. My plan is to develop Indigenous simulations for nursing students and faculty development, such as lunch and learns.”

Baptiste, who is also a master's student at the Werklund School of Education and will begin a doctorate in July, has been consulting with the Tsuu T’ina Nation as well as other communities outside Calgary and within. “The majority of Indigenous people live within the city — probably about 60 per cent,” says Baptiste. “I am connecting with both rural and urban Indigenous populations to find out what they would like to see for nursing students — how we can better support our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students and look for ways we can make the program more culturally appropriate.”

An area Baptiste feels is important is student/peer mentorship. She and Bensler have visited other Canadian universities with strong Indigenous nursing programs where mentorship is key to the success of Indigenous students, and are hoping to incorporate some best practices learned from those. “I think the main support for students will come from each other,” says Baptiste. “But we are working toward making the program supportive and culturally appropriate as well.”

The University of Calgary unveiled its Indigenous Strategy, ii' taa' poh' to' p, on Nov. 16, 2017. The strategy is the result of nearly two years of community dialogue and campus engagement, and involved the work of a number of people from the university, Indigenous communities and community stakeholders. Recommendations from the strategy are being implemented as we move forward with promise, hope and caring for the future.