AU learner a shining star in the nursing community
Athabasca University (AU) learner Melissa Stevenson was the October 2020 featured nurse of the Indigenous Nurses Association of Canada Nominate a Nurse or Midwife Campaign and is nearing completion of her Master of Nursing degree.
Her first spirit name is Bright Shining Star, which perfectly encompasses the impact she has on the nursing community and reclaiming her Indigenous identity.
Stevenson is a registered nurse and Waashkeshuyaan unit co-ordinator at Toronto’s Anishnawbe Health—an Indigenous organization that uses Traditional Healing methods within a multi-disciplinary health-care model. She has worked in health care for over 16 years, the last 10 as a registered nurse in Treaty 13 lands.
Beginning her studies with AU in 2017, Melissa has been working towards earning her Master of Nursing (MN). She is nearing completion of her thesis entitled “Anishnaabek naanadagin: Examining the role of a traditional healer within an intradisciplinary model of diabetes care.”
Stevenson explained that Anishnaabek naanadagin means “to help the people,” which relates to how her thesis looks at how traditional healing can help the community with their on-going diabetes care. Working tirelessly to balance her family and work during a pandemic, she hopes to defend her thesis and earn her MN by the end of 2021.
“They always say, especially with a thesis, you want to find something that you want to ask a few more questions about. This was a great opportunity for me to meet with clients and ask them about what they thought their role was and also, for me to work with the traditional healers and ask them about their thoughts of how that all comes together.”– Melissa Stevenson, AU learner and registered nurse
Discovering her roots
Raised in Newfoundland, away from her family and her cultural roots in Manitoba, Stevenson has committed her career to being an advocate for Indigenous health.
“I reclaimed our teachings and integrate them back into health. About a year and a half into my program, I was gifted a sweat lodge ceremony. I started running sweat lodges for our community here at Anishnawbe Health. I was gifted a pipe and given an opportunity to pray with the community in that capacity,” she said.
“In seven years of working on how to integrate traditional ways of knowing into my practice, I was gifted ceremony which gave me the opportunity to give back to my community. I was given the opportunity to reclaim parts of who we were always meant to be and re-integrate our teachings into our everyday life.”
“I reclaimed our teachings and integrate them back into health. About a year and a half into my program, I was gifted a Sweat Lodge ceremony. I started running Sweat Lodges for our community here at Anishnawbe Health. ”– Melissa Stevenson
She has put considerable effort into learning about her Indigenous culture and has gone on a spiritual journey with Traditional Healers and into Sweat Lodges, which helped confirm her research and expanded her understanding of her people and history.
“A big part of my story is that I grew up off reserve my entire life, away from family and culture,” Stevenson said. “I grew up in Newfoundland, but when I got older and moved out on my own, I moved to Toronto. I found this organization that served the Indigenous community and got to re-learn culture from Healers there. It was almost like I was given the opportunity to reclaim these teachings and my culture. And share it with my kids.”
Finding a balance
When asked how she balances being a mother, a registered nurse and working on her master’s degree, Stevenson had some wonderful insights.
“Three things: community, family and self. I’m a mother and mothers put ourselves last all the time. I don’t know if I’d call it balance, but I get it done in the way that I get it done. It’s really about navigating,” she said.
“That’s what I appreciate about AU, with it being an online school and being considerate about how different things can come up in life. Life is life and you can’t change that. I want to do this and pursue this education and it’s worked well to allow me to work and provide for my family, and balance family and schoolwork. I wouldn’t have been able to do it any other way”– Melissa Stevenson
Understanding her spirit names
And, while Stevenson has proven to be a shining star in many facets of her life and career, she admits that she hasn’t always understood why that spirit name was given to her. She didn’t understand the connection to the name and her spirit.
“I remember I went to another healer and when he reaffirmed that my name was Bright Shining Star, I said that I don’t get it. I don’t understand this name. And so he told me there was second name for me: Red Thunderbird, which I understood,” she said.
“My work at Athabasca University has helped me understand what that other name meant. The name Bright Shining Star, I get now.”– Melissa Stevenson
Learn more about the Master of Nursing program at Athabasca University.