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International Nurses Day – An Apology to Indigenous Peoples

  • Bulletin; Human Rights & Equity
​BCNU re-affirms its commitment to a genuine and just process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and Indigenous union members

On International Nurses Day the BC Nurses' Union celebrates the global community of nurses – the heart and soul of our health-care system. Every day we are reminded of the central role nurses play in the health and well-being of our communities – through the many crises and emergencies that define the current moment.

International Nurses Day is also a time to reflect on the history of nursing – commemorating as it does the birthday of Florence Nightingale.  While Nightingale's contributions to the art and science of nursing have been well documented, her active involvement in the colonial project across the British Empire has received far less attention. How many of us know that Nightingale was an advisor to colonial authorities in New Zealand and Australia? In her advisory capacity she would pen the following assessment in 1863:

The decaying races are chiefly in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and perhaps in certain parts of South Africa. They appear to consist chiefly of tribes which have never been civilized enough or had force of character enough to form fixed settlements or to build towns.

The history of nursing informs the current circumstances of our practice. The recent publication of In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in BC Health Care is a painful reminder that the toxic legacy of colonialism and colonial attitudes towards Indigenous peoples, institutionalized through the Indian residential and day school system and Indian hospitals and embodied in the persona of Nightingale, remain deeply engrained in our health-care system. The In Plain Sight report states:

BC remains in the midst of a transition from this colonial legacy of segregation, disempowerment and dehumanization of Indigenous peoples, to an equitable system that is culturally safe, based on the recognition of the basic human rights of Indigenous peoples, including the right to access services without discrimination or profiling.

BCNU is steadfast in its commitment to facilitating this transition. Dismantling the legacy of colonialism in our health-care system begins with a recognition of the harms inflicted on Indigenous peoples. Indeed, the first recommendation in the In Plain Sight report calls for an apology to be offered to Indigenous peoples by the provincial government and every organization involved in the provision of health care in this province.

In consultation with the Indigenous Leadership Circle and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, BCNU would like to mark International Nurses Day by offering a profound and sincere apology to Indigenous peoples for the racism and harm they have experienced at the hands of nurses and the profession of nursing in the residential and day school system, in Indian hospitals and in our current health-care system. We are deeply sorry.

On International Nurses Day BCNU re-affirms its commitment to a genuine and just process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and Indigenous union members. In so doing we look for inspiration to Indigenous nurse matriarchs like Edith Monture and Rose Casper who in their nursing practice embodied the principles of equity and justice. And we look to you – the members of our union – who play a central role in the health and well-being of our communities and who are best positioned to ensure that our health-care system is a culturally safe and welcoming place for everyone in need of care. 

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