Campus Life - Kamloops  

Finding answers for Indigenous mental wellness

Nikki Hunter-Porter

A TRU Master of Nursing student passionate about improving mental-health services for Indigenous people has received research funding so she can create change that will benefit others in the Secwépemc Nation.

Nikki Hunter-Porter’s one-year project is getting started just as nurses across Canada are celebrated during National Nursing Week, May 10 to 16, and Indigenous Nurses Day on May 10. This year’s theme is Answering The Call, which references nurses being on the frontlines during COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses like Hunter-Porter are seeing a serious issue that the pandemic has worsened: mental health.

Nursing Week student videos

Three groups of TRU nursing students have made videos to mark National Nursing Week.

Hunter-Porter is a member of the St’uxwtéws (Bonaparte) First Nation west of Kamloops who has worked in eight First Nations communities. She has seen firsthand the gaps that Indigenous people experience in mental-health services. As a second-generation residential school and ‘60s scoop survivor, she wants to make improvements that will culturally benefit future generations.

Although she’s in the early part of her master’s program, Hunter-Porter submitted a project proposal to Mitacs and Mental Health Research Canada that involved surveying mental-health workers and participants in Secwépemc Nation communities to pinpoint gaps that affect individuals, which in turn can affect entire communities. She will use Indigenous methodology, such as talking circles, to gather her information.

“From my perspective, I feel there isn’t a lot of knowledge in regard to Indigenous people and their history,” she said.

Hear from TRU nurses and graduates about the nursing leadership they’ve witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic: https://youtu.be/fZ6O1wTLm60

The Nursing Now campaign aims to improve global health by empowering and raising the profile of nurses: https://youtu.be/iR4bKON9pXs

Nurses describe how their practice has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic: https://youtu.be/ctFTy5syzSQ

While Western medicine takes the approach of separating the mind and the body, traditional Indigenous ways approach medicine incorporate the two.

Dr. Lisa Bourque Bearskin, a CIHR Indigenous Research Chair in Nursing and associate professor in the TRU School of Nursing, said she’s never had a graduate student in the first few courses of the program pull together ideas in the way that Hunter-Porter has done.

“Nikki’s research has a mental-health focus. We know there is a mental-health crisis, so we really wanted to highlight the role of Indigenous nursing-led research and its potential impact on the crisis,” she said.

The insight and knowledge Hunter-Porter demonstrated in her funding submission was so strong, it stood out and was easily selected as one of the 10 applications accepted from across the country.

Mitacs is a national, independent, not-for-profit organization. Director of Business Development and Indigenous Community Engagement, Candice Loring, said Hunter-Porter’s submission stood out — so much so, that she was asked to submit for a second round of funds.

A full year of research

“Her project was one of the top projects that came out of our national call,” said Loring. “Just after this call ended, we also launched a national Indigenous call and made the decision to award both (to this project) and double the funding — the most generous offering in the history of Mitacs — extending the project to two internships and a full year of research.”

Judy Sturm, manager for Aboriginal Mental Wellness with Interior Health, said Hunter-Porter’s research could create changes in the system.

“We will support Nikki however we can and look forward to using her findings to improve patient care,” Sturm said.

IH’s research department is also supporting the project.

Partnership with Interior Health

“Nikki’s work with TRU and Mental Health Research Canada is exactly the kind of collaboration our region needs to address the complex health-care challenges faced by local communities,” said Deanne Taylor, IH corporate director for research. “Exploring creative and culturally appropriate mental-health services for Indigenous communities speaks to key IH strategies, and we applaud the project’s commitment to patient-focused research.”

Akela Peoples, chief executive officer for Mental Health Research Canada, said the agency is proud to be part of building capacity mental-health research by supporting partnership projects such as Hunter-Porter’s with IH and Mitacs.

“We are particularly pleased to be supporting the work of a young Indigenous researcher. There has never been a more important time to support the evolution of our mental-health system in Canada.”

Donors fulfill record-setting Limitless Campaign

Generous donors not only met the unprecedented $50-million goal of Thompson Rivers University’s Limitless Campaign, they exceeded it. The campaign concluded at the end of March with a total of $53.7 million given by 4,500 donors who showed they believe in the power of education.

Funds from Limitless will go toward changing students’ futures, opening up possibilities in research and innovation and invigorating TRU’s relationship within the community and region.

TRU President Brett Fairbairn said that $50-million goal was beyond bold; it was the most ambitious fundraising goal ever achieved in the region. Donors and alumni demonstrated their commitment to TRU and what the university offers to students, the community and the world.

TRU President Brett Fairbairn

“It’s uplifting to see how donors championed the Limitless Campaign. It demonstrates the widespread recognition of TRU’s vital role in the future of our students, and in the future of our region and our province,” he said.

TRU Vice-President University Relations Brian Daly said the university community is grateful to all who gave to the Limitless Campaign, especially during this past year, when the COVID-19 pandemic created challenges for so many people.

“We want donors to know their contributions are so gratefully appreciated, especially during these unforeseen circumstances with the pandemic. The fact that people supported Limitless even in difficult times speaks volumes about the unique relationship TRU has with its community,” he said.

Making a difference for students

A total of $33.7 million is designated for student support, going into 420 new awards that will provide financial help to students like Ian Laurrabaquio, who received a First-Year Student Resiliency Award when she started science classes at TRU in fall 2020.

“Over my first year, I have been feeling supported by the school and donors,” she said. “I want to say thank you for all the help and support that I had received over this year of hard work, and thank you to my donor, who helped me and other students have a successful first year.”

Ian Laurrabaquio is one of hundreds of students who understand how important financial support can be.

Another $9 million is slated for innovation—such as research being done in agriculture and business—and for community collaboration, like the TRU Community Legal Clinic supported by the Law Foundation of BC and the Tourism Innovation Lab partnership with Tourism Kamloops.

The remaining $11 million is allocated for new equipment and construction. As a growing institution, TRU has recently established an instrumentation lab and power-engineering shop in the Industrial Training and Technology Centre, labs within the new Chappell Family Building for Nursing and Population Health, and classrooms in the Faculty of Law.

For student Drew Rose, the awards he has received spurred on his determination to work hard on his studies. He was accepted into TRU’s Bachelor of Education program and has received multiple awards, including the Neil Woolliams Family Award and the TRU Foundation Award.

“My experience at TRU has been life changing and I cannot express my gratitude in words for my educational opportunities. TRU has allowed me to grow into the Indigenous individual I want to be, not only for my family, but for my ancestors,” he said.

“Being a mature student and having a couple children, it makes it tough being on a student’s wage. I am very honoured and words can’t describe how happy my family and I are to be receiving these contributions from these wonderful donors. All the hard work and late nights that we have been through and then being recognized for it is something special. These awards have made it possible for my family and I to move forward in a good way.”

Education affects us all

The Limitless Campaign was initiated by TRU’s former Vice-President Advancement Christopher Seguin, who passed away before the public phase was launched. Limitless is a testament to the passion he had for the university and the community where he gave back in numerous ways.

A campaign of this scope requires numerous people for it to succeed. While donors and alumni deserve full credit for surpassing the Limitless goal, there were dozens of people working behind the scene to make those donations happen, including staff and volunteers who helped as campaign co-chairs, honorary chairs and cabinet members.

Limitless Campaign Cabinet Co-Chair Fiona Chan

Campaign co-chair Fiona Chan — herself a donor who has served with TRU in various capacities for more than 25 years — said seeing donors push Limitless beyond its goal reinforced for her that the community values education as much as she does. “I strongly believe that education raises us all to a better life. That’s why I’ve been so involved for so long, and why I have supported Limitless,” she said.

The TRU Residence is being lit up tonight from 9 to 10:30 p.m. to mark the close of Limitless. TRU is grateful to everyone involved in the Limitless Campaign and is looking forward to celebrating this momentous effort in the future when there is opportunity to gather in person.

More information:
Limitless website

Limitless thank-you video

Student’s research has important implications for Indigenous governance

Shawn Blankinship working with statistics related to Indigenous governance

For nearly five months, Master of Business Administration (MBA) student Shawn Blankinship painstakingly copied data from 446 First Nations financial statements into a Microsoft Access database. He compiled what may be the only central database for 2016 financial information for First Nations in Canada, a tool that informed his thesis research on the connection between First Nation government investing policies and community well-being and how geographic remoteness and population size fit into the equation.

Blankinship, a chartered professional accountant and member of the Ashcroft Indian Band, was compelled to pursue his MBA because of an interest in how financial statement data he interacted with through his work could affect policy. After months of data entry and analysis, some of his findings surprised him. They have potentially significant implications for First Nations governance.

Blankinship measured well-being across five socio-economic areas: education, employment, income, housing and, unique to his research, knowledge of Indigenous language, which he says is an important cultural indicator. He found there is often a positive correlation between community well-being and policy promoting investment in infrastructure and revenue sources such as nation-owned businesses and economic development.

And while housing and formal education conditions in remote communities (nations with no year-round road access, or nations with road access but which are more than 350km from a service centre) with large populations were shockingly low — over half of residential houses were in need of major repair — they have retained a higher level of Indigenous language knowledge.

“It makes intuitive sense since there is less interaction with people outside the community,” says Blankinship. “It was a surprising finding — when education goes up, lower levels of language knowledge are often observed. They’re almost opposite.”

Blankinship says Indigenous languages should be incorporated into formal education programs as communities develop to curb the loss of traditional knowledge.

With his thesis presentation now complete, Blankinship is looking forward to applying his research and skills gained through his MBA.

“It’s spurred me on to learn more about my own heritage,” he says, adding that the federal passing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the recognition of land rights and title are important steps toward fair recognition of Indigenous rights.

“I’m hoping those with a First Nations background who haven’t been in close contact with home communities will take an interest and re-engage,” he says.

Blankinship is putting his knowledge to work with the First Nations Financial Management Board. He hopes to do more research in the future and thanks Economics Professor Dr. Laura Lamb, his thesis supervisor, for her support.

“Dr. Laura Lamb has been amazing throughout this whole research process,” he says, adding that her published articles on Indigenous well-being were fundamental to his research.

Blankinship says he is more than willing to share his 2016 First Nations financial statement database with people doing similar research and hopes to see a larger, publicly available database in the future. “In the age of data, we gain so much insight and value,” he says.

Students evaluate what nature gives us for free

Kenna Cartwright Park Kamloops

After hours of Zoom calls and piles of emails, many locals find respite in going for a hike in one of Kamloops’ parks. It’s easy to understand how these recreation areas benefit our physical and mental health, but do we understand their true value? TRU business students are finding out.

In a year defined by social distancing, people in Kamloops flocked to local parks. The City of Kamloops reported a 64 percent visitation increase in 2020 over the previous year. But as students are discovering, parks are more valuable than the trails they provide for hiking and biking. They provide a wealth of ecosystem services — benefits nature provides us for free, such as carbon storage and air purification — which makes them among the topmost valuable assets to our area.

Recently, economics students presented on the economic value of Kamloops parks. Economics Professor Peter Tsigaris was inspired by an article he read about similar research done on New York City’s Central Park and thought it would be an interesting project for students that could also inform the Kamloops community about the value of urban parks.

They found the value of ecosystem services provided by Kamloops municipal parks, including B.C.’s largest municipal park, Kenna Cartwright, and the 15,717 hectares Lac Du Bois Grasslands protected area, are equal to over 70 percent of local gross domestic product (GDP). And even that could be too modest.

Economics professor Peter Tsigaris and Rien Okawa, Master of Science in Environmental Economics and Management graduate

Master of Science in Environmental Economics and Management graduates Rien Okawa and Janelle Zimmer presented similar findings on the value of parks and protected areas in their thesis presentations earlier this year.

Okawa calculated that the combination of the Lac du Bois Grasslands, Dewdrop-Rosseau Creek, Tranquille Ecological Reserve and McQueen Creek Ecological Reserve areas are worth over $140 million when accounting for the ecological services nature provides. But the actual benefits are much higher when these areas are looked at from a holistic approach that incorporates the interaction of all forms of capital (i.e., social, human, built and natural) for sustainable human well-being. Okawa said doing this research opened her eyes to all the work nature does for people that goes unrecognized and she hoped research like hers leads to more funding and protection for areas like the grasslands.

To that point, the BC government recently announced $83 million to fund more campsites, staff and trail improvements over the next three years. Zimmer, who did her thesis on the economic value of BC parks, said they play a significant role in generating economic activity in the province and beyond, including providing over 13,000 jobs in the province and over 17,000 across Canada.

Janelle Zimmer, Master of Science in Environmental Economics and Management graduate

“We often see the environment as a separate entity, when really it’s interconnected with the economy,” she said. “The environment isn’t free per se. It costs resources to manage parks and people spend resources to visit these parks, for example. I think in Canada, we might take how much nature we have for granted.”

As Canada announces an ambitious plan to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 to 45 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, could understanding the true value of parks and protected areas help conservation efforts?

“We humans impact the natural environment negatively and therefore we have to regulate human activity to protect it,” said Tsigaris, adding that this relatively new field of economics, ecological economics, aims to integrate the environment with the economy and place a value on nature to protect it.

So, this Earth Day, as you go for a stroll in your local park, consider not only the value you get from exercise and the peaceful sounds of chirping birds, but also how it serves your community in terms of air, water, soil, culture and more.

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