(April 2021) – 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.
Melissa is a Registered Nurse and Waashkeshuyaan Unit Coordinator at Anishnawbe Health in Toronto, Ontario – an accredited Indigenous organization using traditional healing methods within a multi-disciplinary health care model. She has been working in health care for over 16 years, with the last 10 years working as a Registered Nurse in Treaty 13 area, Toronto, ON.
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.”
Melissa 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. She hopes to defend her thesis and complete the program to earn her MN in early 2021.
“They always say, especially with a thesis, you want to find something that you want to ask a few more questions about,” said Stevenson.
“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.”
Discovering her roots
Raised in Newfoundland, away from her family and her cultural roots in Manitoba, Melissa 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 7 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.”
Melissa 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 – grew up away from family and culture. 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,” she said.
Finding a balance
When asked how she balances being a mother, a registered nurse and working on her masters, Melissa 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.”
Understanding her spirit names
And, while Melissa 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.
“I still use both, but I think my work at Athabasca University has helped me understand what that other name meant. The name Bright Shining Star, I get now. I really do, and I think half of it has been my work that I’ve done while trying to figure out how I operate in in other systems, but still maintaining my spiritual ways of knowing and my integrity or maintaining who I am through and through.”
To learn more about how the Master of Nursing program at Athabasca University can work with your life, visit the program website.