Aboriginal Initiatives

University of Saskatchewan College of Nursing and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action

On December 15, 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its final report, documenting the events and abuses in Canada's Indian Residential schools and the consequences of them, as well as 94 Call to Actions to mitigate and redress those impacts. This was preceded by a forum, hosted by the University of Saskatchewan on November 18-19, 2015, on "Building Reconciliation", examining how Canadian universities should respond.

As articulated by President Peter Stoicheff, post-secondary institutions have a significant role to play in building reconciliation. The TRC specifically identifies the role of nursing schools in one of its Call to Actions, while several others implicitly require action on their part.

The College of Nursing, separately and as a part of the University of Saskatchewan community, has made Aboriginal engagement and success one of its core objectives. As part of its goals for the Third Integrated Planning period, the College has already met several of the TRC Call to Actions; in others, it is actively addressing them. This brief serves to articulate the College of Nursing's efforts and progress in that regard.

We call upon the federal government to develop with Aboriginal groups a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

In the 2015-16 academic year, the College of Nursing realized a long-standing goal: achieving proportional representation of Aboriginal students in its undergraduate student body. As of Census Day, October 1, 2015, 17.3% of its undergraduate students, or 165, self-declared as Aboriginal. This represents an increase of 76% since 2012-13, at which time there were 94 students enrolled.

We are proud to have eliminated the gap in participation in nursing education between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. The most important strategies adopted to achieve this include the establishment of 16.6% equity seats for Aboriginal students, the support and advising services offered through UCAN (University of Saskatchewan Community of Aboriginal Nursing), and our 'learn where you live' model making nursing education more accessible in Prince Albert and northern Saskatchewan, which have a significantly higher concentration of Aboriginal residents than the rest of the province.

Our next objective is to eliminate the gap in our graduate programs, which will also create Aboriginal capacity in research, teaching and administration. To that end, we have developed equity seats in our Nurse Practitioner program, as well as instituted $5000 entrance scholarships for successful Aboriginal applicants to any of our graduate programs.

We call upon those who can effect change within the Canadian health-care system to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients in collaboration with Aboriginal healers and Elders where requested by Aboriginal patients.

The College of Nursing developed a new curriculum in 2012, as it transitioned from the old Nursing Education Program of Saskatchewan (NEPS) to the current Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In this curriculum, the College introduces the concept of the medicine wheel several times, as well as traditional ways of knowing. Many instructors call on Aboriginal Elders and other knowledge keepers to lecture on Aboriginal healing practices, and several have made field trips, e.g. to the All Nations Healing Hospital in Fort Qu'Appelle. Many community clinical placements occur in First Nations and Métis communities or neighbourhoods which further exposes students to indigenous healing practices.

The College's faculty are continuously evaluating ways to further enhance the indigenous content of their curriculum in a respectful and appropriate manner.

We call upon all levels of government to:

  1. Increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the health-care field.
  2. Ensure the retention of Aboriginal health-care providers in Aboriginal communities.
  3. Provide cultural competency training for all healthcare professionals.

The most important way the College of Nursing can contribute to goal 23(i) is to recruit and retain more Aboriginal students. The College was the first in the country to establish an Aboriginal student support group – the Native Access Program to Nursing – in 1984, and has maintained relatively high Aboriginal student numbers since. The establishment of a campus in Prince Albert in 2004, sites in Ile-a-la-Crosse and La Ronge in 2012, improved Aboriginal high school achievement across the province and efforts by the University of Saskatchewan to recruit and support Aboriginal students and encourage their self-identification, have all contributed to its success. There are currently 165 Aboriginal students enrolled in the College of Nursing (2015, counting only Years 2-4), the highest known Aboriginal enrolment in the country.

Our 'learn where you live' strategy of a distributed campus has also contributed significantly to improving Registered Nurse retention across the province and in Aboriginal communities. The main principle behind the distributed model is to satisfy nursing workforce needs outside of Saskatoon and Regina, and it has shown to be effective through our post-graduation survey and anecdotally.

In order to share our best practices with others, we have led the establishment of a Northern Nursing Education Network and published several articles and reports on the distributed model.

We have also worked with Onion Lake Cree Nation and the Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) to educate a cohort of a dozen Onion Lake nursing students, including delivering the pre-professional year on reserve, in order to develop a local nursing workforce for the community's own health care service delivery.

All of our students are educated about and assessed on their level of cultural competency, as further articulated below.

We call upon medical and nursing schools in Canada to require all students to take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, and Indigenous teachings and practices. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

In 2012, the College of Nursing made INDG 107.3: Introduction to Canadian Native Studies, or its equivalent, a prerequisite in the pre-professional year for admission into the College of Nursing.

In addition, the nursing curriculum recognizes "post-colonial understanding", "cultural competency" and "inclusivity" as core competencies, and explicitly identifies learning outcomes that graduating students must obtain:

  • Demonstrate compassionate, culturally safe, relationship-centred care with First Nation, Inuit and Métis clients, their families or communities.
  • Be able to identify the determinants of health of Aboriginal populations and use this knowledge to promote the health of First Nation, Inuit and Métis clients, their families and communities.
  • Demonstrate effective and safe communication with First Nation, Inuit and Métis clients, their families and peers.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to engage in dialogue and relationship building with First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples, cultures and health practices.

The College of Nursing is currently exploring methods by which it can ensure graduates across all sites do in fact demonstrate these competencies, i.e. measuring the output (graduate competencies) and not just the input (a curriculum guide).

The College of Nursing has made strong and steady progress over the past three decades in ensuring Aboriginal students feel welcomed and are positioned for success in their nursing education, and that all of our graduates understand the importance of and can demonstrate culturally competent care to a diverse client base, including Aboriginal clients and their families. We will continue to work to improve our efforts and outcomes in this regard.