Stephanie Spence

Stephanie Spence

Give a brief bio about yourself/ your background/ your history. 

My mother is of settler descent (French) from Ste. Rose Du Lac, Manitoba, and my father is First Nation and grew up in Churchill, Manitoba. Having been born in Brandon and later moving to Treherne, Manitoba (a predominantly white community), I grew up identifying as white to protect myself and fit in, so instead, I will tell you about my Indigenous background and history as a Swampy Cree woman. My family was a nomadic people who lived where the Hayes River meets the Hudson Bay, now known as the historical York Factory First Nation. In the ’50s there was a forced relocation by the government. My grandmother made the trek from York Factory First Nation to Churchill, Manitoba by dog sled. My father was born not much more than a year later, and by 5 was attending an Indian Residential day school. The impact colonization had on my family was substantial, and I have made it my life objective to use the privilege of education and healing that I have, to help others do the same. 

What education have you taken?

I completed my grade 12 diploma in 2009 at Treherne Collegiate. I am currently working on my pre-psychiatric nursing in hopes of being accepted into the Psychiatric Nursing program.

What accomplishments are you proud of?

I decided to take my pre-psychiatric nursing over two years, and boy, was the first year hard. As a mature student, it had been nearly a decade since I had done any learning in an academic setting. With that, I was struggling with my mental health after many years of (not) dealing with the effects of racism and colonialism. I quickly learned that without beginning my healing journey, I would not be able to successfully complete my schooling. I am almost finished my second year and preparing to get into the psychiatric nursing program, and my marks are finally reflecting the inner work that I have done. I am also very proud of my four part-time jobs. I first started with BU CARES last year which is where I first began doing Research Assistant work. We focus on equity and anti-racism, providing me with a healthy outlet to fight for the things that I believe in. With that, I am also a research assistant with the working group for the Indigenization of Brandon University’s collective agreement, something that is very much in line with my fight for recognition and honoring of Indigenous knowledge. Third, I am a student assistant in the Indigenous Peoples Centre. This gives me the opportunity to be a mentor to any Indigenous students who may need it. Finally, I am a Research Assistant on a community-based research project that focuses on healing and reconnecting Indigenous men to culture. I am most proud of this project as I believe this research will change many lives, as it already has mine. These projects have provided me with many opportunities like presenting at conferences, being a lead author, and even a co-author on a peer-reviewed paper. Finally, I am a student member affiliate with the Centre for Critical Studies of Rural Mental Health, a member on the Equity, Inclusion and Diversity committee in Health Studies committee, and a member on the Indigenous Education Senate Sub-Committee.

How did you become interested in your field of study?

When I returned to post-secondary education in my adult life, I first wanted to be a registered nurse. During this time, I was on my own healing journey and just beginning to learn who I really am, who my family is, and the way that racism and colonization continues to impact our identity and way of being. Because of the courses I was enrolled in within my field and study, I had the privilege of being able to articulate my, and my family’s lives, with a deep understanding and empathetic view. While I cannot change the way colonization will impact Indigenous peoples lives, I can help them heal from it as well as ensure that there is research, programs, and supports in place for them, something that is currently lacking.

What is your philosophy in life? 

The bad thing about unhealed trauma? It affects everyone around you. The good thing about healing trauma? It affects everyone around you. 

Where do you see yourself in the future?

In the future, I see myself in the Psychiatric Nursing program, hopefully being a part of creating the necessary changes that it needs to make it BIPOC friendly, as well as continuing with research around anti-racism, equity, and mental health. Once I am a Psychiatric Nurse, I hope to work closely with Indigenous communities, preferably up North, maybe even Churchill, Manitoba. I hope to continue my research work as a Psychiatric Nurse, primarily around Indigenous mental health, and connection to culture. Finally, I would also like to someday get my Master’s degree in Psychiatric Nursing. 

In one sentence, how will you #BreakTheBias?

By continuing to ask the following: Diversity asks, “Who is at the table?” Equity responds, “Who is not at the table, and what barriers do they face in order to get here? Inclusion asks, “Have everyone’s ideas been heard?” Justice responds, “Will everyone’s ideas be taken seriously if they are not a part of the majority?” Decolonization asks, “Who built the table, and why was it built?” – Unknown 

Nominator’s Comments:

I met Stephanie last summer when she applied to the Al & Bee Wagner Indigenous Student Transition Program through Brandon University. Stephanie is a full- time student in the faculty of Health Studies and is currently in the pre-psychiatric nursing program, her current sessional GPA is 4.15.

The Al & Bee Wagner Indigenous Student Transition Program is open to first year Indigenous students at Brandon University.  The transition program is available to help students transition during their first year. During her first year, Stephanie and I met for a weekly check in. It was during the check in that I have gotten to know Stephanie. I found Stephanie to be a highly focused and motivated student. I watched her learn about her Cree Indigenous identity and become stronger for it. She embraced her Indigenous identity and continues to learn and explore what was once forbidden to her and Indigenous people in Canada.

Stephanie’s initial program choice was nursing, and she has now transferred to psychiatric nursing. The switch in programs came about as she figured out her gifts and goals in life. Stephanie shared her personal story with me and explained that psychiatric nursing would be a better fit for her experience and skills; the field she chose to help and give back to Indigenous people. I know that the people she serves she will be treated in a respectful and holistic manner.

The work she does reflects her Indigenous values. Stephanie is an advocate for people facing discrimination, racism, sexism, and violence. This is evident in the research work she does. Stephanie has been a part-time researcher at Brandon University with BU CARES and has contributed on many valuable research projects and presentations. She is currently working on the following research projects; Indigenization of the BUFA Collective Agreement, Connecting Males to Indigenous Healing, and most recently, she has become a student assistant in the Indigenous Peoples’ Center at Brandon University. I have also witnessed Stephanie give back to the BU community by being a panelist at the BU Movies for Mental Health and BU Teaching House. She is always ready to help and can be called on when needed. I have also had the privilege to call on Stephanie to help with my new student orientation as a mentor. She shared many valuable student expertise and resources with the group and offered to help as needed; she is a true leader and continues to demonstrate that during her time here at Brandon University.

Stephanie is a mother to a 7-year-old son. She is teaching him his Cree history and models the values that she wants to pass on to him. Stephanie has a love of the land and spends as much time out there as she can. I am confident that Stephanie’s son will be a strong Cree man one day thanks to the teachings of his mom. It has been an honor watching Stephanie on her learning and healing journey. She is a true inspiration and I am better for having her in my program and life.