Advocating for Indigenous students and furthering reconciliation efforts is something that motivated second-year nursing student Eva Haigh-Baptiste long before she even decided to go into the health-care profession.
“My mom was a health-care aide so I got to go to her job quite frequently when I was younger. She showed me the power of helping others and how fulfilling that life was, and that attracted me to go into nursing,” she says now.
“There's a lot of fulfillment in helping others, especially those in our Indigenous community because that's something that I was taught when I was younger — that our community needs healing.”
Haigh-Baptiste is from the Samson Cree Nation. She was previously the vice-president of Indigenous initiatives with the Undergraduate Nursing Society (UNS) at the Faculty of Nursing. In May, she started a summer student position at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) as the Indigenous Health Program (IHP) assistant.
At CSM, the Indigenous Health Program is committed to supporting Indigenous learners and confronting the issues faced by Indigenous people both in the health-care system and at UCalgary. The program facilitates the inclusion of Indigenous people and knowledge within the CSM and supports institutional initiatives in education, research and health care that aim to improve health outcomes with all Indigenous people.
She says the role intrigued her because her experience at UNS translated well into this program. “I do a lot of the same things, like being a representative for the Indigenous community and students while helping the office with their initiatives. I also incorporate my nursing lens into how I can support these students and medicine, in general.”
Currently, Haigh-Baptiste is handling social media and communications for IHP but her main priority is working to acquire a grant for the development of Indigenous Healing Gardens for both the Foothills campus and main campus. “The program is actually a collaboration between nursing and the Indigenous Health Program at the Cumming School of Medicine.”
At UCalgary Nursing, the Indigenous Initiatives Nursing Circle, led by Indigenous Initiatives Director Michelle Scott and current UNS VP Indigenous Darcy Calihoo, is starting a healing garden for the 2023 season which would plant traditional plants like tobacco and sweetgrass. The grant is aimed at securing, developing and maintaining a permanent garden space for both faculties and to facilitate workshops with Indigenous Elders.
“Both faculties deal with traditional healing within Indigenous communities to build intercultural capacity for both nursing and students part of the Cumming School of Medicine. We’re hoping to have a garden at each campus with students from both programs collaborating.”
Haigh-Baptiste says the IHP supports prospective and current Indigenous med students with admissions, professional development and mentorship as well as research. “Through this program, there's a lot of mentorship opportunities and providing supports for students. I really enjoyed that aspect of it — advocating for Indigenous people in general and getting to connect with my culture.
“There’s definitely been aspects of nursing that I've brought into my role like looking at the holistic picture of mentorship, and ensuring that it's not only career development, but also development of that person's cultural identity.”
She sees herself as an advocate for other Indigenous students because she knows first-hand how lost one can feel navigating the higher education system. “Within an educational institute, it's especially important because this is where future generations are learning,” she says.
“For reconciliation efforts to happen, there needs to be collaboration to walk together in a good way. It is essential to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, learning and connecting and to make this space inclusive for Indigenous Peoples, as education can be quite daunting.”