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New pre-nursing program lets Cree students pursue studies at home


The Cree Health Board has opened up a new “springboard to nursing” program to help Cree students pursue nursing in their own home territory.

It will mean Cree students can now obtain their prerequisites to go to nursing school while studying at home. 

The Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay and the Cree School Board is opening a new one-year, two-semester pre-nursing program in Eeyou Istchee. 

“Let’s try to recruit our own people instead of looking elsewhere. Why don’t we invest in our own people and start there,” said Nancy Shecapio-Blacksmith, the director of nursing at the Cree Health Board and a nurse for over 14 years.

As of now, there are eight people registered in the program, which is a pilot program that Shecapio-Blacksmith hopes to continue next year.

“This one program is more tailored to our Cree clientele or Cree students. We wanted to make sure it reflects Cree culture, our career, way of life and that’s what is different about this program.”

Four students in black and blue graduation gowns.
New pre-nursing program opens for Cree students to study from home. Cree School Board and Cree Health Board want to recruit Cree nurses to offset province wide nursing shortage. (Submitted by Cree School Board)

The program wants to recruit more Cree nurses to strengthen Cree language within local clinics and help offset nursing shortages across Eeyou Istchee. 

“We have 82 vacancies in nursing, but it’s like that across the province, across Canada. There’s a lot of vacancies since the pandemic that happened two to three years ago,” said Shecapio-Blacksmith, adding that a lot of nurses leaving the profession has left the health board struggling to recruit new nurses. 

Anyone who obtains their secondary school diploma or is lacking some chemistry, math and science courses can apply for the program. After completing the program, students can further their education at John Abbott College in Montreal. 

They will even be exempt from some French language requirements. 

A Cree nurse smiles in her scrubs.
Nancy Shecapio-Blacksmith, the director of nursing at the Cree Health Board hopes the springboard to nursing program will help students transition to nursing programs down south. (Submitted by Nancy Shecapio-Blacksmith)

“In terms of working at the Cree health board, they won’t need French. There is an exemption letter that we provide that will exempt these people from requiring French in region 18,” said Shecapio-Blacksmith, adding that the region mainly requires workers to speak in English with French and Cree as strong assets. 

Theresa Bosum,who is from Ouje-Bougamau and graduated from nursing back in 2014, believes Cree nurses are important for elderly patients in need of care. 

“We do need nurses that are able to communicate in Cree. It’s good for our elders because it’s easier for them to be able to express their needs,” said Bosum. 

Bosum thinks the program will make education easier for Cree youth. 

“When Crees are together, they work better. Whereas in college [down south], it’s really hard for a Cree youth. They don’t talk much, they don’t ask questions,” said Bosum. 

Bosom remembers her time studying down south and feeling alone. 

“I find if they’re in a group with their fellow Crees, it’ll be easier for them to express their needs and to ask for help,” said Bosum, who’s been with the Cree health board for almost 10 years now. 

Two Cree nurses giving a man his medication.
Left, Rachel Danyluk trains nurse, right, Carrie-Lynn Macleod while making a home visit and give patient care. (Submitted by Tatiana Philiptchenko)

“A lot of times they have to apply down south. Some of these people have families, children, and they have to relocate their whole family. It’s not easy to adapt to a new environment, find a new school, a new daycare,” Shecapio-Blacksmith. 

Shecapio-Blacksmith hopes that developing an easier pathway for Cree students to pursue nursing will also help with higher quality care for patients. 

“I find that the Cree clients are more compliant to their treatment plans when you have something explained in [their] own language, [they] have a better understanding, a better grasp of it,” said Shecapio-Blacksmith. 

The registration deadline for the program is April 24. Students will begin their semester in August, with most courses taking place online a one week course in Chisasibi, Que. 



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