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TRU nursing leaders honoured for influence

Rani Srivastava and Lisa Bourque Bearskin have had different paths, but their strengths as leaders and change influencers have put them into the same fellowship.

TRU Dean of Nursing Rani Srivastava and CIHR Indigenous Research Chair in Nursing Lisa Bourque Bearskin are being inducted into the Canadian Academy of Nursing Fellowship this Friday, Oct. 15.

The virtual ceremony starts at 9 a.m. and celebrates the country’s most accomplished nurses, whether they work in clinical practice, education, administration, research or policy. Anyone can attend, but they ask that you register in advance.

And while Srivastava and Bourque Bearskin had vastly different beginnings in their nursing careers, both have been unwavering in their commitment to helping others, sparking much-needed change in the profession and providing leadership.

Nursing put them on a journey of self-discovery. And what they learned was that they are leaders and mentors and advocates. They have positively influenced others.

To hear them talk about why or how they got into nursing, you’d think they were both born for the profession, even when they didn’t know it.

Srivastava always knew she wanted to go to university and study something related to health and science.

“As I was looking at the application, there was a box that said nursing. I had certainly encountered nursing in my world, and I thought, I think I can do that. So I checked it off and I thought we’ll see. If I like it I’ll stay, and if I don’t, I’ll figure something out after first year,” she recalls.

“But I have to tell you from the time I entered nursing, I’ve never looked back. I’ve loved it from day one. And I think what I love about it is the opportunities it has given me to be with people, it has done wonders for me as a person, and from a career perspective, I’ve had amazing opportunities to do all kinds of wonderful things. So I’ve never had a second thought about it.”

Bourque Bearskin’s experience was entirely different. She was influenced by her mother and grandmother (kohkum). She saw how they were badly treated, discriminated against and harmed. She also saw how her kohkum took care of her mother, who was a victim of violence and trauma, while she herself took care of her siblings and other family members.

“I was always taught to care, from a very young age. It was just how we did things,” she says.

In fact, her kohkum encouraged her to go to school and learn to be a nurse.

Bourque Bearskin left school in Grade 11, which kept her out of nursing programs but allowed her to become a health-care aide. She upgraded, worked her way up through various caring positions, and in 1991, was accepted into a degree program. And now she has her PhD, which is still rare among Indigenous nurses in Canada.

“I captured the heart of one social worker and one teacher, they offered me these opportunities. After being removed from my family, as part of the child removal era, specifically the residential schools and sixties scoop experience, I learned what it was like to not fit in and this brought a fiery spirit to what I wanted to do. I always followed that path, of caring for people, I wanted to show others I was just as capable,” she says.

In doing her PhD, she worked with four Indigenous nurses — all community nursing leaders, some would say healers and helpers in their own way — over the span of a decade.

“It really spoke to the importance and the need to valuing knowledge system, there’s this other way of knowing, there’s this other way of being that wasn’t being addressed in nursing. I knew that that’s where I could contribute, I knew where I could open up some gaps and contribute to advancing nursing knowledge,” she says.

“Nursing knowledge was and still is very rooted in a medical model, treatment focused. When we talk about Indigenous health, it’s about wellness, it’s about healing, coming together, it’s about learning about the health-care system. And for health-care practitioners, it’s about reclaiming our own history, how we’ve treated and how we’ve worked with Indigenous populations, it is such a unique practice, that deserves our attention.”

During their very different careers, both Srivastava and Bourque Bearskin moved into leadership roles and have influenced the paths of others.

Rani Srivastava and her family.

Srivastava remembers an undergrad student she met while recruiting graduates into mental-health nursing. She didn’t even realize she had influenced the young student. It wasn’t until some years later, when they met again when the student was doing her PhD, that she found out how much of an influence she had.

“I can think of her — and I can think of a few other colleagues, graduate students, or nurses in practice — who through the conversations I’ve had with them, question and hopefully have belief in themselves. . . . The change I’ve seen is the self confidence, the willingness to go after something that they thought wasn’t attainable for them,” she says. This is what she received from her mentors, and what she hopes will help others.

“Those are some of the impacts I can see when I think about individuals and how I hope I have been an influence. They would have discovered their way, they’re fantastic people. But sometimes the conversations we had facilitated that.”

Bourque Bearskin says the fellowship is a way to encourage others.

Lisa Bourque Bearskin in her early nursing days with family.

“If I can support other Indigenous peoples to engage in advanced studies, that’s my purpose. That’s my greatest reward, to honour those other Indigenous nurses who have come before me. . . . I want to honor and recognize all the years of service to those who came before me. And my obligations now are to those nurses that are coming behind me and trying make that pathway a little bit smoother for them.”

On Friday, Srivastava and Bourque Bearskin will be tuning in for their virtual induction ceremony.

“Nursing has taught me about people. One of the areas I’ve done a lot of work in has been around the space of inclusion and belonging and I think this is a profession that has huge diversity across the profession. When I think about the future, I think we have a lot of opportunity to lead the way in what it means to really create inclusive healing societies and I’m excited by that,” says Srivastava.

Bourque Bearskin is grateful to her family, her nation, her Indigenous colleagues, TRU and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc for the opportunities she has had as she paves the way for the nurses of the future.

“There’s still so much work to do. . . . To prepare for seven generations ahead. I would be very worried about my grandchildren coming into health care,” she says, noting racism is still a problem.

“We all want to be of service for our nations. To be part of this academy just shows and signifies there are a number of Indigenous nursing leaders who have been nominated into this fellowship and it creates a safe space where we are now recognized as valued and as equals. As being good enough. Throughout my career, I always felt I wasn’t good enough. Being nominated by my Indigenous colleagues was that key message to say you are good enough Lisa, you have made an important contribution.”

Srivastava and Bourque Bearskin were nominated and encouraged by co-workers and peers to apply for the fellowship. While they had to submit their own information, others provided support through reference letters. Now they have earned the right to use the credential Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Nursing (FCAN).

Alumni Q&A: ‘Proximity to death a lesson in living’

TRU alum Emily Bootle

TRU alum Emily Bootle (BA ’14) is a funeral director, embalmer and the founder of DeathCare BC. We got in touch to learn more about her work since completing her undergrad in psychology at TRU. Passionate about caring for the dead, Bootle talks about building awareness, working with families, the opioid crisis and her responsibilities as a death worker.

Tell us about your job. What do you do?

I am a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Vancouver. In June 2021, I partnered with KORU Cremation | Burial | Ceremony, an independent death-care provider in South Vancouver. On a given day I may be at the computer, on the phone, in the morgue, sitting in church or standing by a graveside. The work itself takes many forms.

The big question many might have: Why? What got you interested in this field?

A couple years after graduating, it came time to figure out what I really wanted to do. Not necessarily what job, but what activities—how do I want to spend my time? I was working in e-commerce and feeling drained after long days at the computer.

Death work came to me in a bit of a brainwave. We hear a lot about health-care sector jobs with the aging population. For some reason, my mind went one step further. I did some research and discovered it was a two-year course and apprenticeship, then I could be licensed and set loose. I was 25 and had only been to three funerals. My parents are teachers, not morticians.

Things that appeal to me about this career, in no specific order, are: personal connections, purpose, job security, growth opportunities and variety. Every family is unique, each person you meet is in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s an incredibly authentic space to work in, with tremendous challenges and reward. Being the last one to see or tend to someone’s beloved is truly sacred to me and that meaning drives me on difficult days.

Take this with a grain of humour: there is an opportunity presented when your career peak will align with the sunset days of the largest living cohort. It feels gratifying to know that I will be a resource to friends and family in the coming decades.

What was your path from TRU to the career you have now?

In the last year of my degree, I decided to start volunteering to try some things out. This led me to RCMP Victim Services, where I learned about our criminal justice system, cycles of substance use and domestic violence, and about death. In my courses, I had been interested in bereavement and attachment, and inclined toward community psychology.

The seed was planted when I learned that when someone dies, unexpectedly or not, the death system that takes over in BC is completely private. Certain religious and cultural communities have their own support systems, however overwhelmingly it is funeral directors and embalmers tending our dead.

This was intriguing at the time and I believe that is what eventually drew me back to this line of work. I perceived and still believe that there is a support gap between time of death and burial or cremation.

Tell us about DeathCare BC. What is it and what gap is it filling?

A couple years back, I created DeathCare BC as a platform for education and advocacy that is separate from my practice as a death worker. It is important to me that folks feel like they can reach out even if they are using another funeral home or from a different area. Very few people know what happens after someone dies and this mystery can create a lot of fear. By familiarizing ourselves with the death system (before we need it), we can reduce this fear and be empowered in our decision making.

There is a negative stereotype of funeral homes and directors, not necessarily unfounded, that they exploit individuals in grief. The best way to protect against this is to be informed about what you need and what to expect. DeathCare BC is an avenue for people to get informed without being beholden to a particular funeral business.

On a long enough timeline, each one of us will encounter death. It is possible to introduce ourselves before we are in shock or grief, to become acquaintances. This does not ease the pain of loss, but it will certainly reduce confusion and fear.

How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

COVID affected death workers in unanticipated ways. In BC, we have not experienced a surge in COVID deaths, however we did experience huge disruptions to the way we gather. In March 2020, funerals and celebrations were first postponed, and eventually cancelled en masse. This has impacted the way funeral homes operate and support families, as we have had to get creative in the way we help folks come together.

The opioid crisis has been a shaping factor of my career. My first year working at a funeral home was in 2016, during peak toxicity. In the last six months, over 1,000 British Columbians have died of drug poisoning and it affects every community you can imagine.

The heat dome was an unprecedented and unimaginable week. Three hundred sudden deaths were reported in one day (June 29), a volume never experienced before in BC. This had mortuary workers stretched to the absolute limit, morgues were full and it took weeks to work through the backlog.

Climate change alongside an aging population puts us at risk of more events like this one. As a death-care worker, I see it as my responsibility to call attention and be a part of making plans for how to respond in future.

What is green burial? What are the benefits?

Green burial is the original burial. Over time our burial practices evolved to include things like embalming, metal caskets, concrete grave liners. Green burial simply means taking all this away and placing the body in a natural shroud or casket and returning to the earth. The burial is shallower than a typical burial, allowing oxygen to aid in the process.

It is a tremendously gentle way to go, one that permits the community to gather and gives the living a place to visit. There is a concept called conservation burial that goes even further by conserving and restoring the burial land to nature.

If you think your local cemetery should have a green burial section, contact them to let them know.

How do you cope with facing grief and death on a daily basis?

It really helps that there are tangible ways for me to support grieving people in the early days after a loss. They come to us with questions and we are able to give answers and provide structure to a very confusing and sad time. Some situations weigh heavier than others, and on those days, I really try to be patient with myself and lean in on comfort. Comfort food, music, movies, people.

This work reminds you to be present with the people you love and to enjoy the time you have. Proximity to death is a lesson in being alive.

What’s next for you? What are your long-term goals?

Right now, I am very excited to nurture and grow KORU Cremation | Burial | Ceremony with my business partner Ngaio Davis. She is a highly experienced funeral director from whom I am very grateful to be learning. Our foundation is in environmentally sustainable practices and family-led care. We are doing our best to chart a different kind of path in a highly traditional industry.

One big goal is to draw awareness to how limited our after-death options are in BC. Washington state has legalized human composting and multiple provinces have access to water cremation. In BC, we have only flame cremation and ground burial. With a cremation rate of almost 90 percent, the liquid natural gas footprint of our death care in this province is significant and under the radar.

I hope to persuade our legislators to permit more sustainable options for British Columbians. As a province, we are falling very much behind.

How did your experience at TRU prepare you for this career?

The breadth of experience I was able to get as a student at TRU informed my work in innumerable ways. My connections to professors, other students and my community almost felt like being in a village together. I had role models for what grassroots leadership looks like in individual programs and felt authentically connected to my cohort.

Being a funeral director means I play a very specific role in my community. I am proud of what I do and extend a depth of gratitude to the individuals at TRU who helped shape and prepare me for it.

Where can people go for more information?

To get in touch with me, or browse some resources, my site deathcarebc.ca is a good start.

To learn more about our independent funeral business check out korucremation.com, there is also a ton more information there.

Green burial in Canada is trending and there’s great info at greenburialcanada.ca.

Regarding water cremation (alkaline hydrolysis) watercremationbc.ca provides ways to support.

Share your story. Contact us at [email protected].

First woman Indigenous provincial judge in BC honoured at convocation

A groundbreaker for Indigenous women in BC’s legal system is being honoured at Thompson Rivers University’s Fall 2021 Virtual Convocation on Friday, Oct. 8.

TRU is bestowing an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, upon the Honourable Marion Buller for her outstanding leadership and contributions to equitable justice for Indigenous people. She is known as a strong advocate for Indigenous people’s legal rights in Canada and her contributions have been described by many as monumental.

The Honourable Marion Buller

A member of the Mistawasis Nehiyawak Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan, Buller earned a law degree from the University of Victoria in 1987 and was called to the bar in 1988. In 1994, she was appointed to the Provincial Court as BC’s first Indigenous woman judge.

Buller created BC’s First Nations Court in 2006 to provide restorative justice and traditional ways in sentencing. She presided in the First Nations Courts until retirement and also provided the foundation for BC’s Indigenous Family Court.

She served as Chief Commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls from 2016 to 2019 and gave her first public talk about the inquiry’s findings at Thompson Rivers University in June 2019. The 1,200-page final report is seen as a critical examination of the complex racial, social and systemic factors contributing to disproportionately high rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people in Canada.

“Many of the truths I heard from families and survivors left me in tears. At the same time, all of the families’ and survivors’ courage and resilience inspired me and gave me hope for real change in our communities,” she said following the inquiry.

Buller has also served as the commission counsel for the Cariboo-Chilcotin Justice Inquiry and as president of the Indigenous Bar Association. She has received numerous awards in recognition of her contribution to the advancement of Indigenous and human rights.

Marion Buller’s devotion to the pursuit of justice for Indigenous people exemplifies the commitment to Truth and Reconciliation that TRU strives to foster in its students.

Tree program bolsters Coolest School status

Shovels dug deep into the dirt and 10 celebration maples were planted around the Chappell Family Building for Nursing and Population Health to mark the launch of TRU’s Campus Tree Program while also highlighting the 10th National Tree Day.

James Gordon, manager of sustainability programs, said the program was one of the initiatives noted by the Sierra Club, which recently released its top-20 Coolest Schools in North America. TRU came third this year, and was ranked the highest of the three Canadian universities that made the top-20 list. In 2019, TRU was the No. 1 Coolest School.

“In addition to major projects we’ve initiated in recent years, we have launched programs for tree-planting and reusable cutlery. These might seem like small measures, but they tell our community that everyone can take steps to make a difference,” said Gordon.

“This summer, we have experienced first-hand the effects of climate change and we deeply understand the need to take action. TRU continues to strive to reduce our environmental impact while being a place where solutions can be found,” said TRU President Brett Fairbairn.

The Campus Tree Program is supported by the Sustainability Office, Horticulture department and Grounds Maintenance department. Gordon is sharing information about it with other Canadian universities to inspire them to follow suit. The tree-planting launch took place on Sept. 22. It’s a one-year pilot that relies on teams of volunteers to plant, nurture and care for trees across campus.

University staff or contractors provide help and supervision to the volunteers, who can be staff, students, faculty, alumni or TRU supporters. Volunteers work in teams of three while learning from grounds/horticulture personnel about tree planting, care and preservation. They receive a program certificate of completion and a ball cap.

The program could lead to academic and research opportunities and it contributes to the Canadian government’s goal of planting two billion trees by 2030.

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