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A nurse’s journey through her role in truth and reconciliation

White settler uses 215-kilometre trek to honour lives of lost Indigenous children

By Joëlle Lachance-Artindale
July 4, 2023
Courtesy of Joëlle Lachance-Artindale
“My journey has not only taught me many things but also reinforced how important it is for non-Indigenous Canadians to become better informed; we all need to do our part in exposing the truth and working toward reconciliation,” Joëlle Lachance-Artindale says.

I have been a registered nurse for 14 years. I would like to share with you a career change that I would have never anticipated. I hope that by learning about my story, you will be inspired to recognize the need to learn the truth about Indigenous Peoples as well as the work that lies ahead toward reconciliation.

Courtesy of Joëlle Lachance-Artindale
“Once I had completed my daily walk or run, I posted a photo of myself along with a screenshot of a map that tracked my progress,” Joëlle Lachance-Artindale says.

It all started when I was overlooked for a full-time teaching position in a nursing program, which, up until that point, had been my ultimate professional goal. I took this as an opportunity to reflect on my career. I had been practising as a critical care nurse in a cardiac and general intensive care unit (ICU) at two different hospitals and was heavily engaged as a sessional instructor in an undergraduate nursing program.

The start of a life-changing sequence of events

In the fall of 2017, I decided to seek a northern nursing position and was hired by an agency that sent nurses to remote northern Ontario First Nations communities. My first assignment, which was during the winter of 2018, was to work in a remote, fly-in community approximately 1,800 kilometres from my hometown. I will never forget what I saw when I first arrived, for it changed my life forever. My eyes were opened to a reality that I could no longer ignore. What I saw was astonishing, to say the least, but what was even more shocking was the fact that this was occurring in my own country.

I soon discovered that the way health care is delivered in these communities is unique, and there is nothing that could have prepared me for the experience of working in a remote First Nation community. Since my first experience in the North, I have read many books, listened to many podcasts, and viewed many documentaries to better understand Indigenous Peoples and their cultures. I soon discovered that the historical and ongoing legacy of colonialism still existed until this day and that the only path forward was through learning about the truth and engaging in the work of reconciliation.

Prior to starting my northern nursing career, I knew very little about residentials schools or the Indian Act. I soon realized that if I were to continue working with Indigenous patients, I would need to become better informed if I was to be in a position to offer competent and culturally safe care. Even though I completed my last northern nursing assignment in the fall of 2019, I realized that this experience had awakened in me a yearning to continue to learn as much as I could about Indigenous Peoples and the struggles they face.

Remains of 215 children found

Fast-forward to the end of May 2021. This will forever be known as one of Canada’s darkest periods. The remains of 215 children were discovered at a former Kamloops residential school in British Columbia. This discovery, I believe, has forever changed our country. After many years and reports, there was now proof that unmarked graves and burial sites were a reality at residential schools across North America.

Even though this news was so unsettling, some people still questioned whether it was true. After all, how could Canadians not have known this? What had we been missing all these years? How could we become better informed? I found myself and many of my colleagues, family members and friends asking these and many similar questions.

I decided that, as a White, cis-gendered, female, Canadian settler, I wanted to do something to honour the lives of the Indigenous children who were lost. I also wanted to take this time to do my part in not only educating myself but also to educate and inform other Canadian settlers about our roles and responsibilities with respect to reconciliation. The question was, how could I go about this and truly make a difference?

Journey in support of calls to action

With help and support from my husband, I decided to walk a total of 215 kilometres in honour of every child who had been found buried in Kamloops. This distance was significant but also achievable. I invited others to join me on my journey by either following me on Facebook or accompanying me on my daily runs or walks.

It was important that I use this opportunity to educate people about the historical and ongoing legacies of colonialism and the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). I decided that an effective way to get my message across was to use social media. My goal was to introduce my followers and supporters to all 94 of the calls to action in the TRC’s report.

I decided to walk or run 2.15 kilometres daily and I created an online challenge inviting other runners to join me. Every morning, I also put up a new post on Instagram and Facebook about a call to action. I included information and a commentary about how we can support and improve the government’s role in that day’s particular call to action. Once I had completed my daily walk or run, I posted a photo of myself along with a screenshot of a map that tracked my progress.

I used my daily posts to talk about the things I had done to support that call to action. For example, I discussed a podcast, a documentary, my participation in an online class, a book or the purchase of a piece of Indigenous art. I also provided links and information on how my followers could access additional resources.

Over the course of 96 days, I managed to walk or run a total of 249.7 kilometres and raise $1,000, which was donated to Wiidokaaziwin (“The Gathering Place”) at Cambrian College. This space was unveiled on November 10, 2022, and the funds will help pay a Sudbury-area Indigenous artist to paint a mural there.

What I’ve learned

I am proud of my journey because it has taught me so much. It provided me with the opportunity to have open and honest conversations with many people about a topic that is important yet so unexplored.

Much to my surprise and encouragement, I discovered that some of my young nieces and nephews seemed to know far more than most of the adults I had engaged with.

I found myself having productive yet sometimes challenging conversations with some of my health-care colleagues who had differing opinions about Indigenous people’s experiences in navigating our western health-care system. This experience required me to at times be vulnerable to and patient with others.

Ultimately, my journey has not only taught me many things but also reinforced how important it is for non-Indigenous Canadians to become better informed; we all need to do our part in exposing the truth and working toward reconciliat0ion.

How has this challenge changed me? I continue to walk or run almost every day for the nearly 5,000 children who never came home from residential schools. Since beginning the challenge in June 2021, I have now completed over 2,300 kilometres. I have learned so much from my journey. The land and their connection to it are very important to Indigenous Peoples. I have discovered that I feel at my best when I am doing something that connects me to the land. As a White, privileged, female settler, I consider myself fortunate to be able to live, work and play on the traditional lands of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, and I recognize that Sudbury also includes the traditional lands of the Wahnapitae First Nation.

I am committed to working closely with Indigenous people in my community and bridging the gaps that exist in the education of health-care providers. I will continue to participate in activities that will allow me to grow and learn because I recognize that I am not, nor will I ever be, an expert when it comes to Indigenous Peoples. I vow to stay on this journey and continue learning.

Joëlle Lachance-Artindale, RN, CNCC(C), MScN, is the director of clinical management with Bayshore Home Care Solutions North East (Sudbury, Timmins & Sault Ste. Marie) and a casual registered nurse in the cardiovascular thoracic ICU at Health Sciences North in Sudbury.