When I arrived at the College of New Caledonia to teach, I had already spent some years as an active researcher in Aboriginal health issues. My entrance in the field was initially stimulated through meeting Aboriginal women and their families in women’s shelters and was sustained through marriage and subsequent Aboriginal family ties. Few non-Aboriginal Canadians are aware either of the fundamental role that Aboriginal peoples have played in Canadian history, the unique health issues that concern them today or the growing demographic importance of the Canadian Aboriginal population. My career and events of my personal life combined to increase the depth of my knowledge of these issues and their importance to both nursing and to Canadians in general. I had not, however, actually taught Aboriginal health to students – largely because both undergraduate and graduate nursing courses in Aboriginal health were surprisingly rare until recently.
The Northern Collaborative Nursing Program at the College of New Caledonia was in the vanguard in this respect, being one of the few nursing programs in Canada to have a core course in Aboriginal Health. I realized, on first teaching the course, that there was no existing textbook suitable to undergraduate students. Instead, I developed a curriculum around research texts, statistical data, and government reports. The lack of a dedicated course text remained a constant irritant, one that I was soon to realize has become more widespread as nursing courses in Aboriginal health have emerged across Canada and each has encountered the same textbook issue.
I decided to write Introduction to Aboriginal Health and Health Care in Canada to fill this gap, and to improve both my own, my colleagues’ and our students’ teaching and learning experience. I have learned a lot through writing it, reforming and improving my own curriculum in the process. Ultimately, though, this text grew organically from the actual experience of teaching Aboriginal health to nursing students. Its structure reflects years of feedback from my students, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. That being said, advisors from both the First Nations Centre at the College and guest speakers from the First Nations and Métis peoples of Northern British Columbia have also shared their advice on how to effectively address Aboriginal issues in teaching.
The book is written in a way that would allow faculty to present the material in the order they wanted, according to the priorities they embraced. I designed the chapters to be supportive of each other but amendable to having their order altered to reflect course priorities – something I myself have often had to do. I integrated class activities that have proved popular and embedded the approach to Aboriginal health that has become central to nursing in Canada – cultural safety – securely in the narrative. It is not the last word in Aboriginal health for nursing students, but I hope my colleagues and students find it a useful step along the way, as I do.