Pathway To Indigenous Nursing and Connection: Far From Home but Close to Community
“I was 17, packed my car and moved and I think it was just so lonely,” Talia Tumak remembers. Having people in your corner can make all the difference, she’s finding out. Tumak lives in Winnipeg where she attends nursing school, but she grew up in Winnipegosis. She first wanted to go into medicine, then sociology. The isolation of being in Winnipeg alone was tough, even though she had some friends. She took a year off from school at one point, working at the care home and hospital in her hometown. That’s where she realized nursing was the path she wanted to pursue.
Growing up, she went to a small high school and had fun playing a lot of sports. She felt unprepared for university life and found the transition tough. Her experience in the nursing program has been completely different, now part of the Pathway to Indigenous Nursing Education program (PINE). It brings Indigenous nursing students who are often far from home and in the same stage of their studies are brought together, creating the community she wished she had when she first started.
From day one, her cohort has been supporting each other, doing weekly sharing circles, participating in cultural activities and enjoying being part of a unique Indigenous community on campus. It has inspired her to get involved as part of the Indigenous Nursing Students Association and as one of the Indigenous student reps at her university. She helps coordinate Orange Shirt day and also efforts to recognize Indigenous nursing students and educators.
Her advice for students like her considering leaving home for school or work is honest. “I would definitely say it's hard. It's not easy. You can always visit and talk with your family, but it's just so worth it, giving back to your community, and getting educated is such a good way to do that. So many other people at the university are going through the same struggles in leaving their community. Education is so important, I think that's such a good way to grow and I definitely think you can do it.”
Thinking about how she wrestled with complicated feelings, she wants to tell Indigenous youth, “We belong at the university. I doubted myself a lot, or compared myself a lot, but we're really on our own journey. I think you just have to try it and get out there. It's hard, it's just so fast paced but it really is such a short period of your life.”
To manage mental health and wellness, she suggests taking time for oneself, doing things you enjoy and celebrating success. She records all her due dates in a planner and to reward herself she goes for walks, ice cream, or something else she looks forward to. Tumak spends time with her friends on Sundays drinking coffee and studying after she puts her son down for a nap.
While she’s still deciding what kind of nurse she wants to be yet, she’s hoping to graduate next year. She’s looking forward to returning to her home community when she graduates. Graduation once felt so far off when she struggled with medical chemistry. She took it twice and still managed to get the same grade, an experience she found frustrating.
Tumak was also unprepared for how expensive everything would be and ended up working jobs to make ends meet while she studied. She had a hard time feeling confident enough to apply for bursaries, worrying about where she stood compared other students and she doesn’t want anyone else to go through that. “I would encourage students to apply for bursaries, because there's so many. Even if something doesn't quite apply to you, just apply,” she advises.
To make that easier, Tumak suggests having a pre-written letter you can change around to apply for different bursaries based on what applies to you and your situation. She explains that having the financial aspect covered means you can focus on getting the best grades you can instead of thinking about your finances so much and being busy working.
Beyond the financial and academic challenges of school, there are emotional and mindset challenges too.
“When you first start out, you might be a little bit shy, or feeling like out of place or maybe like you're not smart enough, or things like that,” Tumak explains. That’s a challenge she thinks might have been easier in the beginning if she had the community she does now.
“Make connections everywhere.That's also why you're here. It's not only just to get an education, the whole point as well is to make those connections and get to know people,” she advises. Tumak suggests connecting with professors, even if they seem scary or unapproachable. Many are happy to help with letters for bursaries or helping you find summer employment.
Tumak wants to inspire inspire Indigenous youth and tell them, “You belong here. There's so many other people that are in the same place you are, even if you might not feel that way. Just reach out, you can reach out to me even if you have any questions or you just want to talk and you're having struggling. We've all been there too.”
She has a special message for aspiring students who are parents. She says, “As a parent, going to university is possible. You can do it. It's hard. It's tough. There's some days you have a crying kid all night and you have to go to school and there might be other struggles [you face] that other people aren't going through. It takes a lot even just to get to school sometimes for you in comparison to other students. But I would say you belong there and you just keep working at it because the light is at the end of the tunnel there,” she encourages.
Talia Tumak started off university feeling alone and isolated but is nearing the end of her schooling surrounded by a community of Indigenous peers. Once upon a time at 17, she packed her car up and left home feeling lonely, but she’s found a place where she belongs and a path of studies that will bring her back home more able to contribute. The light at the end of the tunnel is bright, and so is her future.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
August 2023 Updates: Talia has just completed her final year of nursing studies. She will complete her senior practicum placement during the months of September to November 2023 in surgical nursing. She is excited to be done with her classes and focusing on getting more hands-on nursing experience.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.