The importance and promise of integrating Indigenous knowledges in nursing education




Canada, Decolonization, Nursing Ethics, relationality, holism


This paper explores the relevance of Indigenous perspectives within the nursing profession, and the importance of weaving these perspectives into nursing education. We suggest that Indigenous perspectives can support nursing’s core ethical values of relationality and holism and may hold representational and transformational possibilities for students and educators alike. Guided by principles of Indigenous learning, we provide several exemplars from Canadian schools of nursing that have already begun the process of decolonizing their programs. We conclude by describing some of the challenges and considerations that may arise when Indigenous perspectives and approaches are considered for inclusion into nursing education programs.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Vanessa Van Bewer, University of Manitoba

Vanessa Van Bewer, RN, MN, is a Métis francophone multidisciplinary artist, registered nurse and doctoral candidate at the College of Nursing, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba.. With an affinity for storytelling and spoken word, Vanessa’s performances as well as written work explore themes that run the gamut from Indigenous identity and culture to relationships and nursing ethics. She is passionate about encouraging others to use the arts to think creatively about justice in their own lives and in their own communities.

Roberta L. Woodgate, University of Manitoba

Roberta L. Woodgate PhD, RN.,  holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair Award in Child and Family Engagement in Health Research and Healthcare and was a former Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Applied Chair Award in Reproductive, Child and Youth Health Services and Policy Research (ranked #1 in the competition). Her research program, IN•GAUGE, embraces a dynamic approach to: involve children, youth and families; interact with researchers and knowledge users in the research, intervention and evaluation process; and be innovative in the use and exchange of knowledge with the combined goal of improving health care and access to care for children and youth.

Donna Martin, University of Manitoba

Donna E. Martin, RN, PhD, Associate Professor, Associate Dean, Graduate Programs, College of Nursing, University of Manitoba

As a nurse researcher, Dr. Martin works collaboratively with interdisciplinary teams and marginalized groups to conduct community-driven research focusing on health equity and social justice. Primarily through the use of qualitative methods, her research explores health equity and social justice from the perspective and lived experience of marginalized groups. She has served as a co-principal investigator on a CIHR-funded study to explicate the micro- and macro-construction of induced displacement from the perspectives of Little Saskatchewan First Nation youth impacted by the 2011 human-made flood.  Dr. Martin was the recipient of three teaching awards and she’s a Past President of Xi Lambda Chapter, Sigma Theta Tau International (Nursing Honor Society). She supervises students with interests in health equity and social justice and students passionate about quality nursing education and health services


Frank Deer, University of Manitoba

Frank Deer, BEd, MEd, PhD, Canada Research Chair & Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba

Dr. Frank Deer graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in 2008 with a PhD in Educational Administration. Dr. Deer also completed an MEd in 2003 and a BEd in 1999 at the University of Manitoba. Dr. Deer has served as a classroom teacher in the Frontier School Division, Pembina Trails School Division, and the Winnipeg School Division. Dr. Deer has also served as an instructor at the University of Manitoba and the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Deer’s scholarly interests include: Indigenous Education; Philosophy of Education; Indigenous Language Education; Identity Studies.


Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada. (2009). Cultural competence and cultural safety in nursing education: A framework for First Nations, Inuit and Métis nursing. Author.

Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada. (2007). Twice as good: a history of Aboriginal nurses. Author.

Allen, D. (2014). Re-conceptualising holism in the contemporary nursing mandate: From individual to organisational relationships. Social Science & Medicine, 119, 131–138. DOI:

Battiste, M. (2002). Indigenous knowledge and pedagogy in First Nations education: A literature review with recommendations.

Battiste, M. (2010). Nourishing the learning spirit: Learning is our purpose in life. Education Canada, 50(1), 14–18.

Beavis, A. S. W., Hojjati, A., Kassam, A., Choudhury, D., Fraser, M., Masching, R., & Nixon, S. A. (2015). What all students in healthcare training programs should learn to increase health equity: Perspectives on postcolonialism and the health of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. BMC Medical Education, 15(1), 155. DOI:

Bourque-Bearskin, R. L. (2011). A critical lens on culture in nursing practice. Nursing Ethics, 18(4), 548. DOI:

Bourque-Bearskin, R., Cameron, B., Weber-Pillwax, C., Stout, M., Voyageur, E., Reid, A., Bill, L., & Martial, R. (2016). Mâmawoh Kamâtowin, “Coming together to help each other in wellness”: Honouring Indigenous nursing knowledge. International Journal of Indigenous Health, 11(1), 18–33. DOI:

Bouvier, R., Battiste, M., & Laughlin, J. (2016). Centering Indigenous intellectural traditions on holistic lifelong learning. In F. Deer & T. Falkenberg (Eds.), Indigenous perspectives on education for well-being in Canada (pp. 21–40). Education for Sustainable Well-Being Press.

Browne, A. J., Varcoe, C., Lavoie, J., Smye, V., Wong, S. T., Krause, M., Tu, D., Godwin, O., Khan, K., & Fridkin, A. (2016). Enhancing health care equity with Indigenous populations: evidence-based strategies from an ethnographic study. BMC Health Services Research, 16(1). DOI:

Bullen, J., & Flavell, H. (2017). Measuring the “gift”: Epistemological and ontological differences between the Academy and Indigenous Australia. Higher Education Research and Development, 36(3), 583–596. DOI:

Canadian Nurses Association & Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada. (2014). Aboriginal health nursing and Aboriginal health: Charting policy direction fornursing in Canada. (No. 978-1-55119-416–5).

Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. SAGE Publications.

Dion Stout, M. D., & Downey, B. (2006). Epilogue: Nursing, Indigenous peoples and cultural safety: So what? Now what? Contemporary Nurse, 22(2), 327–332. DOI:

Dei, G. J. S. (2000). Rethinking the role of Indigenous knowledge in the academy. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 4(2), 111–132. DOI:

Doane, G. (2002). Beyond behavioral skills to human-involved processes: Relational nursing practice and interpretive pedagogy. Journal of Nursing Education, 41(9), 400-404. DOI:

Edgecombe, N., & Robertson, A. (2016). The Nunavut nursing program: A retrospective reflection. Northern Review, (43), 83–103.

Etowa, J., Jesty, C., & Vukic, A. (2011). Indigenous nurses’ stories: perspectives on the cultural context of aboriginal health care work. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 31(2), 29-46,187-189.

Green, B. (2016). Decolonizing of the nursing academy. Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 36(1), 131.

Hartrick Doane, G. & Varcoe, C. (2015). How to nurse? Relational inquiry with individuals and families in changing health and healthcare contexts. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. Hill, D. M. (2003). Traditional medicine in contemporary contexts protecting and respecting Indigenous knowledge and medicine. National Aboriginal Health Organization.

Holmes, D., Roy, B., & Perron, A. (2008). The use of postcolonialism in the nursing domain: Colonial patronage, conversion, and resistance. Advances in Nursing Science, 31(1), 42–51. DOI:

Hunter, L., Logan, J., Barton, S., & Goulet, J. G. (2004). Linking Aboriginal healing traditions to holistic nursing practice. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 22(3), 267–285. DOI:

Kincheloe, J., & Steinberg, S. (2008). Indigenous knowledge in education. In N. K. Denzin, Y. S. Lincoln, & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical and Indigenous methodologies (pp. 135–156). SAGE publications.

Kovach, M. (2013). Treaties, truths and transgressive pedagogies: Re-imagining Indigenous presence in the classroom. The Journal of the Society for Socialist Studies, 9(1), 109–127. DOI:

Lowe, J., & Struthers, R. (2001). A conceptual framework of nursing in Native American culture. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 33(3), 279–283. DOI:

Mahara, M. S., Duncan, S. M., Whyte, N., & Brown, J. (2011). It takes a community to raise a nurse: Educating for culturally safe practice with Aboriginal peoples. International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, 8(1). DOI:

Marker, M. (1998). Going native in the academy: Choosing the exotic over the critical. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 29(4), 473-480. DOI:

McEvoy, L., & Duffy, A. (2008). Holistic practice – A concept analysis. Nurse Education in Practice, 8(6), 412–419. DOI:

McGibbon, E., & Lukeman, S. (2019). Critical social justice: The moral imperative for critical perspectives in nursing. Witness: The Canadian Journal of Critical Nursing Discourse, 1(1), 3-12. DOI:

McGibbon, E., Mulaudzi, F. M., Didham, P., Barton, S., & Sochan, A. (2014). Toward decolonizing nursing: The colonization of nursing and strategies for increasing the counter-narrative. Nursing Inquiry, 21(3), 179–191. DOI:

Moffitt, P. (2016). Mobilizing decolonized nursing education at aurora college: Historical and current considerations. Northern Review, (43), 67.

Nakata, M. N. (2007). Disciplining the savages, savaging the disciplines. Aboriginal Studies Press.

Pijl-Zieber, E. M., & Hagen, B. (2011). Towards culturally relevant nursing education for Aboriginal students. Nurse Education Today, 31(6), 595–600. DOI:

Richmond, C. (2015). The relatedness of people, land, and health. In M. Greenwood, S. De Leeuw, N. M. Lindsay, & C. Reading (Eds.), Determinants of Indigenous peoples’ health in Canada: Beyond the social (pp. 47–63). Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Rohatinsky, N., Exner-Pirot, H., Parent-Bergeron, M., Bosevski, K., & Pratt, C. (2018). Indigenous nursing students’ readiness for practice perceptions - Les perceptions d’étudiantes autochtones en sciences infirmières quant à leur préparation à la pratique," Quality Advancement in Nursing Education - Avancées en formation infirmière, 4(2), Article 3. DOI:

Rowan, M. S., Rukholm, E., Bourque-Bearskin, L., Baker, C., Voyageur, E., & Robitaille, A. (2013). Cultural competence and cultural safety in Canadian schools of nursing: A mixed methods study. International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, 10(1), 1–10. DOI:

Sium, A., Desai, C. & Ritskes, E. (2012). Towards the ‘tangible unknown’: Decolonization and the Indigenous future. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), I-XIII.

Stansfield, D., & Browne, A. J. (2013). The relevance of Indigenous knowledge for nursing curriculum. International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, 10(1), 1-9. DOI:

Statistics Canada. (2017). Focus on geography series, 2016 Census [Data file]. Ottawa, ON: Government of Canada.

Thorne, S. (2019). Genocide by a million paper cuts. Nursing Inquiry, 26(3), 1-3. DOI:

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to action. Author.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 1-40.

United Nations. (2007). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Varcoe, C., & McCormick, J. (2007). Racing around the classroom margins: Race, racism, and teaching nursing. In L. E. Young & B. L. Paterson (Eds.), Teaching nursing: Developing a student-centered learning environment (pp. 437–466). Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins.

Zeran, V. (2016). Cultural competency and safety in nursing education: A case study. Northern Review, (43), 105–115.




How to Cite

Van Bewer, V., Woodgate, R. L., Martin, D., & Deer, F. (2020). The importance and promise of integrating Indigenous knowledges in nursing education. Witness: The Canadian Journal of Critical Nursing Discourse, 2(1), 11–24.