Byline: Kaylea Berry/Reporter
The Oklahoma Indigenous Nurses Association is a part of the Oklahoma Nurses association. OINA is a platform for Native American nurses and nursing students so that we have a stronger voice in the healthcare of indigenous populations.
“We’re trying to create allyship with all healthcare within the state of Oklahoma, especially educating about our history as Native nurses,” said Sonya Frazier, OINA President. “All Native nurses in Oklahoma are connected already because of historical trauma, intergenerational trauma, and boarding schools.”
OINA is trying to educate non-Indigenous people in the healthcare system about Indigenous history and culture to help better understand how to care for the Indigenous population.
Frazier is a descendant of boarding school survivors. Her mother went to Jones Academy and Wheelock. Her father also went to Jones Academy but ran away after three days. Her mother and father just started opening up about their experiences with her.
“It wasn’t until recently that my mother finally started kind of sharing her stories and wanted me to start writing them down,” Frazier shared. “Then my father started explaining to me not too long ago as well.”
Storytelling plays a significant role in Indigenous culture. That is how our ancestors have taught us about the earth, life, and our ways.
“Storytelling is a part of healing as well, and so when we start sharing those stories, that’s how we begin that healing process as well,” Frazier explained. “Even though these stories are difficult to hear sometimes, or share sometimes, we still need to get that out, so we have that healing start.”
A goal of OINA is to bring more diversity to the research aspect of healthcare. Much research is used in communities with a high Native population from non-Native communities. Therefore, most health research does not consider the spiritual element in the healing process. Spirituality is another big part of who Indigenous people are.
Many Native people have lost their connection to their culture and people because of assimilation. However, more are returning, wanting to learn and restore that connection. In the past, OINA sent out surveys asking Native nurses who or what inspired them to become nurses, their journey, cultural ties, or if they practiced ceremonial ways.
“We just need to understand in the healthcare setting that whenever our indigenous people need help, we’re at a time now where we need to say, ‘What has happened to this person?’. We need to stop saying, ‘What’s wrong with you?’,” stated Frazier. “That’s the change we want to make in the healthcare system.”
Another issue that OINA wants to address is racism in the healthcare setting. According to Frazier, there is a lot of racism within healthcare for Indigenous people because many staff does not understand the Indigenous culture.
“That’s why we’re trying to come in and help educate others about it, to understand it,” Frazier said. “To be a part of the community, you need to understand the community.”
Currently, most doctors want to tell the patients how they need to change and what they are doing wrong, and most Indigenous people do not respond well to that because of past trauma. This leads to some of the current issues.
“Part of that diversity and inclusivity that we want to do with the Oklahoma Nurses Association is starting educating about the first Native American nurse, the first Black nurse, the first Hispanic nurse, and all of these other minority nurses,” Frazier shared. “The only way we’re going to change things is by educating each other, sharing those stories.”
The Oklahoma Indigenous Nurses Association will conduct a presentation about Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail during the Oklahoma Nurses Convention on Sept. 29. Yellowtail was one of the first Native Americans and the first Apsáalooke (Crow) to graduate as a Registered Nurse in the United States. She advocated for Indigenous people and served at the tribal, state, and federal levels on Native health and education councils.
The OINA program is open to all nurses and nursing students in Oklahoma. To become a member of ONA and OINA, visit theONA website. The Oklahoma Indigenous Association holds an hour-long Zoom meeting for members on the first Wednesday of the month at 12 p.m. They have a guest speaker every month to share information and their experiences. It is a time when everyone can encourage and support one another. You can also follow the program on their Facebook page, Oklahoma Indigenous Nurses Association.