The inaugural BC Indigenous Nurses Day honours Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture, known as Edith Monture, who was Canada's first Indigenous nurse.
This day has been declared by the BC Nurses' Union, the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the Canadian Nurses Foundation, the First Nations Health Authority, and Thomson Rivers University, with an endorsement from the Canadian Federation of Nursing Unions.
Edith was born on April 10, 1890, in Six Nations of the Grand River near Brantford, Ontario. She was not able to attend nursing school in Canada, because many Canadian nursing schools excluded Indigenous woman at the time. In addition, the Indian Act was also a barrier to higher education for Indigenous people, because obtaining a degree or professional designation stripped an Indigenous person of their Indian Status for citizenship rights. The process of losing one’s Status was called “enfranchisement.”
Because of this, Edith obtained her nursing education from New York’s New Rochelle Nursing School, where she graduated first in her class. In 1914, she became the first Indigenous registered nurse in Canada.
During the First World War, Edith volunteered with the United States Army Nurse Corps, along with 14 other Canadian nurses. She was stationed in France, where she provided care to wounded soldiers.
In 1917, the Military Service Act was passed. This act gave wartime nurses the right to vote – making Edith the first female Status Indian and registered band member to gain the right to vote in a Canadian federal election. However, it’s important to note that Indigenous women as a whole could not legally vote in a Canadian federal election until 1960.
After the war, Edith returned home to Six Nations of the Grand River, where she advocated for better Indigenous health care, working both as a nurse and midwife. In 1921, she married Claybran Monture; the couple went on to have five children.
Edith died in April 1996, just one week shy of her 106th birthday. Her legacy left a significant impact both in her community and beyond.
Honouring Edith and Indigenous nurses across the province is crucial when addressing both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the recommendations from the In Plain Sight report.
To register for events taking place on BC Indigenous Nurses Day, visit the Thomson Rivers University website.