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Indigenous allyship: Answering calls to action in nursing

May 11, 2022


SOURCE: Hamilton Spectator, May 10, 2022

The McMaster School of Nursing is committed to the challenge of working alongside our Indigenous nurse colleagues and communities, Sandra Carroll writes.

By Sandra Carroll

Celebrating Nurses Week (May 9-15) provides the community, including at McMaster University, an opportunity to reflect on our pre-pandemic priorities, which have experienced somewhat of an extended pause, covering more than two years’ worth of nursing education during this public health crisis.

As health professionals in nursing and nursing education, it is critical to keep moving forward, now more than ever, and we are doing just that.

At McMaster and within the Faculty of Health Sciences and School of Nursing we began in 2017 to implement our plans to answer the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Calls to Action specific to schools of nursing.

Bernice Downey joined the Faculty of Health Sciences at that time as the Indigenous health lead and was appointed as an assistant professor in the School of Nursing and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences to lead us and our learning in this regard by launching the Indigenous Health Initiative in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

With a long career in nursing and as a medical anthropologist, Downey is a strong voice and leader at McMaster. She has brought us all to the table, pushing health professionals and administrators in new directions, shedding light on what many needed to see and experience and moving us to action.

This year, led by Downey, we also achieved a major milestone with the establishment of the Mino Bimaadiziwin Mishkiki Aapjishnik Gamik — Tsi nón:we ayakonniyóhake táhnon aonsayakota’karitehake — or Indigenous Health Learning Lodge.

The learning lodge launched in February 2022 and the operational team has begun implementing our Indigenous health sciences education strategic priorities. The genesis of the learning lodge is in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Final Report’s Calls to Action.

The work to indigenize health sciences programming has been underway for many years at McMaster, with community stakeholders opening better access to health sciences education. The creation of the learning lodge will result in enhanced Indigenous health science education activities across the faculty.

The TRC called on medical and nursing schools in Canada to require all students to take a course on Indigenous health issues and to provide skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.

How does a school of nursing answer the calls from the TRC? The journey has progressed in nursing and is now embedded in our strategic plans, developed with Downey.

Our responses to the calls to action include priority areas of reform in undergraduate and graduate curriculum; faculty recruitment and support and student services. Increasing the number of Indigenous health professionals in the field and supporting those working in their communities are also priorities for us.

At McMaster’s School of Nursing, using a collaborative approach to curriculum development, we have introduced a new Indigenous health and policy course for all BScN students, and we are creating opportunities for new Indigenous faculty, students, researchers and staff.

As nurses across the country celebrate their achievements this Nursing Week, many are aware of the need to invest and engage in diverse, equitable and inclusive approaches in areas of nursing clinical practice, education, policy and research. This work is not finished.


Achieving a culturally safe and relevant learning environment in post-secondary institutions requires both decolonization and indigenization strategies.

Anti-Indigenous racism policy development and implementation, Indigenous health curriculum reform, cultural safety training for non-Indigenous faculty, administrators and practicing nurses are among those strategies.

Many Indigenous nurses across the country were honoured on Indigenous Nurses Day (May 9) for their efforts in all four spheres of nursing as they join their non-Indigenous nurse colleagues in celebration.

The McMaster School of Nursing is committed to the challenge of working alongside our Indigenous nurse colleagues and communities to realize our shared goal to achieve positive transformative change in both the School of Nursing and beyond. Are we allies in the eyes of our Indigenous partners in nursing? We are striving to be.

Sandra Carroll is the executive director of McMaster University School of Nursing.

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