When you think of the nursing profession, chances are you think of nurses on the front-line administering care to patients. But nurses have another important role in the transformation of health care—as researchers.
In 2019, Thompson Rivers University (TRU) School of Nursing, with support from Interior Health was funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, First Nations Health Authority and Canadian Nurses Foundation, to create an Indigenous Health Chair in Nursing—one of six nationwide. Dr. Lisa Bourque Bearskin leads the program, supporting Indigenous student-led research at a provincial level.
“The impetus for this position came from Indigenous nurses advocating for access—to delivering safe care which requires Indigenous led solutions to advancing knowledge through research,” says Dr. Bearskin. “Because we consistently found ourselves at the bedside as opposed to the political and decision-making tables, our Canadian Indigenous Nursing Association (CINA) advocated for these Chairs.”
A great example of the Indigenous nursing research coming out of TRU is a project recently submitted by Master of Nursing student Nikki Rose Hunter-Porter.
As Dr. Bearskin explains, “Nikki’s research has a mental health focus—we know there is a mental health crisis, so we really wanted to highlight the role of Indigenous nursing-led research and its potential impact on the crisis.”
Nikki is a member of St’uxwtéws (Bonaparte) First Nation and has worked in multiple First Nation communities in B.C. She has seen the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous access to health care services—both as a health-care practitioner and as an Indigenous woman with lived experience accessing services. Acknowledging the interconnectedness of mind and body to wellbeing, Nikki saw the importance of improving mental health services to overall health for the communities she serves.
Using Indigenous research methodologies with Secwépemc community members and practitioners, Nikki will gather experiences and identify wellness priorities. The goal is to develop culturally safe mental wellness strategies by and for Indigenous people that can then be adapted by other Indigenous communities–and across the health authority.
For Judy Sturm, Aboriginal Mental Wellness manager with Interior Health, this research promises to provide evidence that can then lead to system transformation. “We will support Nikki however we can and look forward to utilizing her findings to improve patient care,” she says.
Nikki’s research will be funded through Mental Health Research Canada and Mitacs, a national, independent, not-for-profit organization. “There has never been a more important time to support the evolution of our mental health system in Canada,” says Akela Peoples, CEO of Mental Health Research Canada. “We are particularly pleased to be supporting the work of a young Indigenous researcher.”
Candice Loring is director of business development and Indigenous community engagement with Mitacs. When she read Nikki’s submission, she knew she was seeing something special. “Nikki’s project was one of the top projects that came out of our national call,” explains Candice.
Interior Health’s research department is also supporting Nikki’s project. “Nikki’s work with TRU and Mental Health Research Canada is exactly the kind of collaboration our region needs to address the complex health-care challenges faced by local communities,” says Dr. Deanne Taylor, corporate director for research. “Exploring creative and culturally appropriate mental health services for Indigenous communities speaks to our key strategies, and we applaud the project’s commitment to patient-oriented research.”
We look forward to highlighting Nikki’s findings and the research of other Indigenous nurses over the coming years.