Guided by the Raven and Eagle: How this Psychiatric Nursing grad found clarity by following her Indigenous roots

By Brenna Robert, Bachelor of Science in Psychiatric Nursing grad

Yi’yáu, xƛanugva Brenna. Sahtu Dene du Háiɫzaqvṇugva. Gáyáqḷanugva tx̌as Wágḷísḷa du Tulita.
In Heiltsuk, this roughly translates to: Hello everyone, my name is Brenna and I am of Sahtu Dene and Heiltsuk descent. I hail from Bella Bella and Tulita.

I can say with confidence now that psychiatric nursing is my calling, but I didn’t always feel that way. Honestly, I didn’t even know the career existed until a few months before the program started. It was a Kwantlen Polytechnic University professor – the first psychiatric nurse I ever met – who pointed me in the right direction and encouraged me to apply. Up until that point, I had flip-flopped between different career paths and schools, sampling every subject from horticulture to chemistry to politics. At the time, I felt a bit like a thief in the night, stealing bits and pieces of programs, but the completion of every new course left me feeling emptier and even more confused about what I wanted to do with my life.

My ancestors paved the way

My mother used to comfort me by saying: “Whenever you’re lost, remember the Raven and Eagle on your shoulders. They’ll always be there to guide and protect you.” You can believe me when I say both birds had their work cut out for them. But thinking back on the hard times now, I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, like many other Indigenous students, I’ve inherited a heavy legacy from Canada’s educational system; many of my family members hide an agonizing past in residential schools, while others still fight for a space in academia, against all odds. My journey is one more story among theirs. Despite how mystified I am by how I ended up here, I truly can’t say I’m surprised that the same values that link my family’s stories together – resilience, compassion and hope – are the same values that define the profession I chose: psychiatric nursing.

When my professor introduced me to this new and exciting world of psychiatric nursing, there were a few colleges I considered enrolling in. When I couldn’t decide between them, I relied on the advice of the clever Ravens and wise Eagles among my family and friends for guidance. One of the biggest factors in choosing Douglas College was the designated Indigenous seats offered to students of the Psychiatric Nursing program, which nearly guaranteed my admission to a program famous for its long waiting list.

My Douglas support network

There were so many things I liked about Douglas College while I was studying there that it’s difficult for me to pinpoint the best parts. For starters, the Coquitlam Campus offered a variety of supports available to me as an Indigenous student; everything from counselors who supported me in my application, to our own room where we could relax and socialize. The Psychiatric Nursing program itself was demanding, but even on my worst days, I could always find my classmates and instructors right beside me. They believed and inspired me to reach my full potential even outside of the classroom. Being at Douglas also opened doors I never knew existed. Through the Psychiatric Nursing program, I participated in the Homeless Outreach Projects organized by my fellow students, worked as a student intern with other Indigenous professionals, and most importantly, advocated for Indigenous patients during various stages of their mental health journey.

Read more: Hitting a home run for Indigenous youth

Paying it forward for my community and beyond

Now that I’ve graduated, I’m leaving with bigger dreams than I ever could have imagined when I started the program. I want to help people within my reservations in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories who struggle with substance use and mental health, I want to become a case coordinator of adult mental health services in Vancouver, and I want to continue to support other students who want to make a difference in the world of mental health – to name just a few. Of course, I won’t be able to do any of those without consolidating my practice, so my first baby steps will be to continue learning and strengthening my knowledge base in new grad programs at Fraser Health Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health.

If I can pass on advice from one budding Indigenous student to another, it’s to expect the unexpected and become comfortable with discomfort. Growth spurts aren’t predictable or easy, but we are gifted with strong roots and stronger communities that will support us through them. The world needs us now more than ever, but if you feel lost or overwhelmed by this, remember the Raven and Eagle are on your shoulders – always guiding you and protecting you on your journey. Ẁúq̓vanúgvuƛa. (I believe in you). All my relations.

Want to learn more about Douglas College’s Psychiatric Nursing program? Attend an upcoming information session.

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