UBC Nursing's inaugural Indigenous Nursing Lead - Tania Dick

Tania Dick with her mother, Mary Dick, also a UBC Nursing alumna

The School of Nursing has recruited Tania Dick, a member of Dzawada’enuxw First Nations of Kingcome Inlet, a UBC Nursing Indigenous Advisory Circle Member and UBC School of Nursing Alumna, as our inaugural Indigenous Nursing Lead. While this is happening at the one-year anniversary of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan, it has been a long time coming.

In this new role, Ms. Dick will help guide multiple aims and considerations on how best to enact the School’s commitment to preparing the next generation of nurses who are deeply committed to upholding Indigenous Peoples’ human rights and ending Indigenous-specific racism in health care.

“We have never had a clearer map about what we need to do – whether it’s the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC), UNDRIP, or In Plain Sight. And yet we haven’t transformed the very institutions that need to do that work,” explained Dr. Helen Brown, a UBC Nursing Associate Professor and co-chair of the School of Nursing’s Indigenous Cultural Safety committee.

The planning team has been intentional in designing the role and its positioning within the larger structure of the School including a careful analysis of what has worked and not worked in other units and institutions. “While many institutions have grappled with how to ‘do’ reconciliation, the historic approach was often tokenistic and laid the burden on one Indigenous person. We are doing it differently. The role needs to be a formal part of the fabric of the School – not just an intermittent consultation role. This is a pilot year, but we’re envisioning having a regularized role in the School,” added Dr. Leanne Currie, a UBC Nursing Associate Professor, member of the University Advisory Committee – Centre of Excellence for Indigenous Health, and member of the Metis Nation of British Columbia.

For Ms. Dick, this role represents a sea change in our approaches. “My mother is alumni of the School of Nursing at UBC, so this conversation has been going on for generations. I graduated in 2010, so it’s an indicator of growth for me, and readiness of where we’re at as a nursing family,” shared Ms. Dick. “The School has taken a number of steps since I graduated about how to do [reconciliation] work. This isn’t about me, as a single Indigenous person, this is about this faculty and this institution meeting all of the [TRC] recommendations and being true leaders in the world of nursing. Because this is a prestigious School of Nursing with true leaders at so many levels, the new role is just going to be another sign of the leadership that the School can take.” 

The Indigenous Cultural Safety committee is envisioning an Indigenous Nursing Lead role that will not carry the burden of implementing the Indigenous Cultural Safety strategic plan, but rather, “we are focused on ‘turning the gaze’ and resourcing faculty and staff’s capacity to do the work,” suggests Dr. Brown.  For example, if faculty recognise a desire to position their syllabi with an Indigenous perspective, Ms. Dick will be able to critique the faculty members’ proposed approach.

Undergraduate and graduate students often receive more training in Indigenous cultural safety than faculty and staff. For example, the UBC 23 24 Indigenous Cultural Safety course and the School of Nursing Indigenous Health course have been offered to undergraduates for the past 4 years. Further, many graduate students have completed San’yas through their work at local health authorities. “While a version of the UBC 23-24 course is being modified for faculty, it is not yet launched. The Indigenous Cultural Safety committee is also creating a program for staff and faculty to support our people ‘where they are’ in engaging with the Indigenous context in their roles at our School,” explained Dr. Brown.

Ms. Dick’s leadership adds another layer of support to these activities. “To me, the message of ‘consultative expertise’ in the job description is in part about making it feel safe and welcoming for people to explore where they are on their allyship journey,” adds Dr. Currie, “while recognizing that individuals are responsible for learning the historical and contextual issues that are at hand.”

Although Ms. Dick’s position is heralded as an incredible resource, it also has built in accountability for the School. “Let’s turn the tables,” she says. “I’m your ally, I’m here to help you, to lift you up in this work. Because this is your work, this is your journey, and this impacts you as an individual and your practice.”

The School’s Indigenous Cultural Safety committee has carefully integrated the Indigenous Nursing Lead position and processes at the committee level so that it is a team-based approach enabling the portfolio to be a strengths-based, collective approach, and decentralized across the committee. The School’s commitment to provide funding for the position, rather than rely on external grants, distinguishes it from other Nursing positions in Canada. Even the title of the position, Indigenous Nursing Lead not Indigenous Nurse Lead, speaks to the wider aspiration of catalyzing Indigenous leadership for the profession through the work of the School.

The ICS committee curates resources to intentionally uplift, amplify, propel, and build the critical mass of Indigenous nursing leadership. Ms. Dick explains, “As Indigenous nurses we get catapulted into these kinds of leadership positions – within our communities or nations whether or not we work there. Without leadership tools in our toolkit, Indigenous people often leave the profession really early.” She further elaborates, “[We need to focus on] not only, ‘how do we prepare students to be successful in the program’, but ‘how do we prepare them for success in the profession?’” Dr. Currie adds that “the first next steps are to consult with self-identified Indigenous nursing students to co-create a collaborative vision for student success.”

Already there is buzz about how these approaches are resonating with other groups. Indigenous nursing leaders like Leslie Bonshor at Vancouver Coastal Health are building similar supports for Indigenous nursing clinicians. Ms. Dick stresses that especially in responding to In Plain Sight, nursing schools in BC need to be collaborative and model best practices, “everyone has to learn from each other on this, and we have to cross-pollinate.”  She further stresses that the only way to address Indigenous and other racism is through collective work. “When I think about this position and this movement at the UBC School of Nursing, it’s good medicine. There is much discussion about racism and discrimination, and cultural safety and humility. It’s a hot topic. Everyone is looking to each other and trying to figure out what to do. I think this is just good medicine for everyone to be able to witness and see what this new role can do. When we have medicine, we harvest it and gather it – it’s to be shared. It’s to heal.”

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