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Unleashing Nursing’s Potential to Improve Aboriginal Health, by Laurie Dokis, RN

With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report last summer, and the commitment from the Federal government to move the Aboriginal health agenda forward, there has been a renewed commitment to improve the health of Aboriginal peoples. We have also witnessed Aboriginal leaders being represented at the highest levels of decision-making, including the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and Melanie Mark, who recently became the first Indigenous woman elected to the B.C. Legislature.

Within our own nursing community, there has also been increased discussion and commitment among nurses in positioning themselves to lead this change - and what better way to do this by engaging in these complex, difficult, yet inspiring discussions, at the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada (A.N.A.C) conference, held in Montreal this past February. It was truly an honor and privilege to attend this conference in my capacity as ARNBC’s Regional Director: First Nations, alongside the ARNBC President-Elect Tania Dick, ARNBC Executive Director Joy Peacock, and France Gascoyne, the winner of ARNBC’S STAND competition.

Nursing has a long standing history of engaging in political action and advocacy, and this conference truly illustrated the need for nurses to continue to speak out and address the inequalities and injustices that exist. This year marked the 40th anniversary of A.N.A.C, and it was an absolute pleasure to listen to many founding members of A.N.A.C’s lived experiences about how Aboriginal nursing has changed throughout the years. I’ve been a member of A.N.A.C for two decades, and it’s been truly inspirational to witness and experience the on-going commitment and passion of my long-time and new colleagues in improving Aboriginal health nursing and Aboriginal health.

Several brilliant speakers were in attendance, and two presenters particularly stuck with me. One of them was Marie Wilson, the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, who spoke and encouraged us to familiarize ourselves with the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations related to healthcare. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, delivered a moving presentation that focused on the work she has done to break down the systemic and discriminatory barriers in the area of Aboriginal child welfare. Cindy’s work has directly contributed to the current push to restructure child welfare systems across Canada to ensure that Indigenous knowledge is at the centre. She encouraged each one of us at the conference to do our part by bringing concerns about substandard care forward for discussion and action. Cindy also implored that we all use the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as our framework to inform policy change.

My experience at this year’s A.N.A.C conference has reinforced my commitment to political action that is grounded in my indigenous nursing values and cultural beliefs. With support from our national professional associations, CNA and A.N.A.C who signed a partnership accord to commit to collaborating on Aboriginal health nursing to improve the health outcomes of Indigenous peoples, as well as ARNBC’s commitment to work with stakeholders to advance Aboriginal health nursing, I feel empowered to continue the legacy of indigenous nurse leaders before me, and those who are now beside me to ensure that the health care system in BC and in Canada recognizes that:

  1. Aboriginal people matter
  2. Healthy aboriginal people are an integral part of Canada
  3. Aboriginal people should be treated fairly and have access to quality health care services

This work cannot be done alone. We must continue to build and foster collaborative and respectful relationships, and most importantly, actively listen to the needs of Aboriginal peoples, as they see them. We must make a commitment to engage and listen to Aboriginal people to truly understand what is important to them. We have an extensive nursing family that includes LPNs, RNs, RPNs and NPs. We are joined together by our college, association and union, like the braid of sweetgrass, which strengthens our collective commitment to public safety, advancing the profession and ensuring that we have quality workplaces so that we can deliver safe, competent and ethical care. Together we can ensure that the recommendations of the TRC are implemented here in BC, and together we can ensure that Aboriginal people’s rights to quality health care are realized.

I encourage all nurses to speak up for Aboriginal health issues, and to come together as a nursing family to move towards reconciliation. With the commitment of government at all levels, we as nurses, must seize this opportunity to lead change. Collectively, we can truly improve the health of Aboriginal peoples, by challenging the systemic issues that continue to compromise this population. We can no longer accept the status quo.


Laurie Dokis earned her MN at Athabasca University in cultural competence with an Advanced Nursing Diploma and her undergraduate BScN/BA in Psychology at UofA. She has numerous additional certifications.  She is a past president of NINA and has been a member of ANAC for 20 years.  Laurie is a proud member of Dokis First Nations and is committed to seeking ways to share and apply her passion for nursing by connecting, engaging and creating respectful relationships with nurses and others who are interested in improving access to culturally safe, competent and ethical nursing for Aboriginal peoples. Laurie is the Regional Director, First Nations for ARNBC.

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Sally Thorne

Thanks Laurie for being one of so many powerful voices leading this nursing movement for social change. The Aboriginal Health challenges need all of us, and every nurse has a role to play in making as right as it can be in our lifetime. I celebrate the work that you and so many wise, strong and proud Aboriginal nurse leaders are making in today's world.

Joanne Maclaren

Thank you for this lovely article Laurie! You are a truly compassionate leader and I value our collaborations. I also agree that we need to come together as a nursing family to move reconciliation for aboriginal people forward in order to make a positive difference. Thank you for leading the way!

Laurie Dokis

Thanks Joanne! I continue to be inspired when I have the opportunity and priviledge to work along side nurses just like you and your professional practice team at Island Health! We are the change we want to see.

Take care.


Laurie Dokis

Thanks Sally! I am so grateful to be a part of the many nurses here in BC who are committed to meeting these challenges head on (and I use the word head because of the brilliant minds - yours included!!) that are able to articulate verbally and in writing the spirit behind our commitment to change.

See you soon!



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