Pioneer of Indigenous Representation in Healthcare
First Registered Indigenous Nurse in Saskatchewan
Ellen Tan, Christina Hsing
Most of us can recall the small blurb written and read by unenthusiastic educators, that depicted the importance behind acknowledging the history of the land which we stand on. During those brief two minutes in high school assemblies, it felt like the whole class lost their focus while listening to the presenters scurrying through the recognition as fast as possible. They would then snap back to reality at the sharp “Okay?” screeching through the microphone. The thoughts of those who were paying attention quickly trickled out from their minds as the presenter began breezing through the “actual” assembly content.
Today, we should all listen a little more intently to the land acknowledgements, we should pay more attention to the meaning behind the words, and we should do our due diligence to learn the history. In an attempt to do so, in this month’s newsletter, we will look back on June, the month of National Indigenous Heritage, to reflect and understand the significance of the Indigenous contributions to our land.
Trigger Warning: the following content includes discussion of the treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools and may be disturbing for readers.
Despite their considerable contributions to Canada’s history, Indigineous Peoples were not always treated with the respect they should have been. A legislation was passed in 1883 to force Indigenous children to be separated from their families and culture to attend residential schools (Face History & Ourselves). These were government-funded boarding schools, mostly run by the Catholic church. They are century-old crime scenes of cultural genocide with the last school finally closing in 1996 (The Guardian). This is merely 25 years ago from today.
The children suffered greatly in residential schools, most of them enduring physical and sexual abuse, malnutrition, disease, and neglect. Many did not survive, with their bodies being discovered only in the past couple of months, hidden in unmarked graves. Currently, more than 1,100 bodies have been found, with an estimate of 15,000 deaths or more (The Guardian). In recent months, voices cried out for justice to be brought onto the assailants employed by residential schools.
We must not forget.
Individuals of the Indigenous Peoples have constantly been the driving forces behind Canada’s various industries. In healthcare especially, Jean Cuthand Goodwill was the first registered Indigenous nurse in Saskatchewan, Canada (Cuthand, 2020).
Born in 1928 on the Poundmaker Cree Nation, Cuthand Goodwill’s father (John Tootoosis) was the Cree leader and First Nations organizer, and her mother (Harriet Cuthand) was a midwife and medicine woman. Harriet served as a major role model for Cuthand Goodwill as she progressed to overseeing a large rural area in Saskatchewan. She worked relentlessly, delivering babies, inoculating children, and responding to emergencies.
"Our dream is to live as a unified First Nation community made up of well-rounded, responsible, caring individuals striving to
heal in mind, body and spirit." — Mission Statement of the Poundmaker Cree Nation
Exhausted by the tiring work, Cuthand Goodwill moved to a hospital in Bermuda, returning to Canada two years later. Due to her father’s early influence and Métis leader Jim Brady, Cuthand Goodwill also developed a steady career in the Department of Indian Affair and Northern Development. Her goal was to provide health services for poverty-stricken and/or Indigenous people.
She co-founded the present-day Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association and became a nursing consultant for Health and Welfare Canada’s medical services division. Nevertheless, she continued to fight for equality, establishing the University of Saskatchewan’s Native Access Program to Nursing. Additionally, she also published her father’s biography with author Norma Sluman.