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Kirsty Muller speaking at a podium.

Kirsty Muller

‘When you come into this profession, you have a passion for it’

College of Nursing hosts Indigenous alumni on National Nursing Week

May 10, 2024 — 

The College of Nursing, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences hosted three Indigenous nurse leaders and alumni as part of National Nursing Week and Indigenous Nurses Day in Manitoba on May 8.

Kirsty Muller, a registered nurse of Ojibwe Treaty descent with roots in Hollow Water First Nation, opened her presentation discussing National Nursing Week’s theme of “Changing Lives. Shaping Tomorrow.”

“This fits not only Indigenous nursing, but nursing in general, because it’s what we do on a daily basis,” she said. “When you come into this profession, you have a passion for it. The interactions you have with patients, families and co-workers are going to change lives and shape tomorrow.” 

Muller shared her journey from growing up in Winnipeg in poverty to becoming the first registered nurse to hold the position of Manitoba’s regional director for the Canadian Society of Addictions Medicine.

She also opened Winnipeg’s first Indigenous-led Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine (RAAM) Clinic, a walk-in clinic that people can visit to get help for substance use, and currently holds the position of nurse case manager for an opioid agonist therapy program in Red Sucker Lake, Man.

A passionate advocate for harm reduction, she discussed several highlights from her career, including helping develop a managed alcohol program in Shamattawa First Nation at the height of the COVID pandemic.

“This is one of the things I am most proud of in my career. Their nursing station was overrun with people going into acute alcohol withdrawal,” she said.

“I was honoured and blessed, and still am to this day, to be able to bring that program to the people of Shamattawa.”

Jamie Boyer speaking at a podium.

Jamie Boyer

The other speakers were Jamie Boyer, a registered nurse and member of Sagkeeng First Nation, and Mirenda Sutherland, a public health nurse originally from Nischawayasihk Cree Nation.

Boyer manages the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) healthy sexuality and harm reduction program.  She discussed the program’s Street Connections mobile service, which provides nursing services and harm reduction supplies throughout the city.

“We provide those services to the community, connect with the community and identify needs for the community. Right now, our van goes out in the evenings but we have plans to take it out during the day,” she said.

Boyer praised the college for Mahkwa omushki kiim: Pathway to Indigenous Nursing Education (PINE), a program that offers supports to First Nations, Métis and Inuit students throughout the bachelor of nursing program, and to those applying to the program.

“There are not a lot of Indigenous nurses out there. That’s why I love the PINE program – it gives opportunity and supports students, knowing that there are obstacles to overcome, especially with our experiences with health care not being so nice a lot of the time.”

Mirenda Sutherland speaks at a podium.

Mirenda Sutherland

Sutherland lives in Winnipeg and has worked as a public health nurse with the WRHA for over 20 years. An active member of her community, she discussed being a board member for Manitoba Indigenous Nurses Inc. and Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, a self-governing First Nations health organization founded in 2020.

“This new system will be developed through speaking directly to health-care experts and communities, and negotiating the systems so the services can be tailored to meet the needs of First Nations and northern First Nations as a collective,” she said.  “The community members of the northern Manitoba First Nations are the foundation of this new and historic health-care system.”

The system aims to increase access to medical screening and facilitate timely access to specialized health and related services for people in First Nations communities.

“We all have personal stories of how the health care system has affected us,” Sutherland said, as she shared a story about a nephew who died after having an undiagnosed brain tumor.

“Public health nursing means a lot to me. I would not want to work anywhere else.”

The event was part of a speaker series hosted by the college’s anti-racism committee.

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