“When I see things change for the better because someone’s voice has been heard, that’s the ultimate reward.” – Sandy Miller
People live fantastical lives. Look at Quincy Jones. Other than continually compromising his health overworking and a few failed attempts at marriage, everything he’s touched professionally has turned to gold. The man has lived nothing short of a prolific life.
I think what’s happening on planet Earth right now is people are confusing the word “agree” with the word “cooperate.” People don’t know what words mean and how to apply them anymore.
Like labels, we think we can slap a word on someone and expect our assessments to improve our quality of life. A big bargain to swallow in my own attempt to make sense of psychopathy and its impacts on Earth and humanity.
In the grand scheme of eternity, we may not in the immediate future understand how our actions affect ourselves or others. Such a karmic conversation poses a slippery slope since we haven’t reached a collective agreement about what “karma” means. I think politics originally may have attempted to alleviate the burdens of disagreement, but these thoughts might be generous.
I suppose we’ll have to figure out a way to psychologically trick the work horses into competing for integrity. Imagine that. We understand how our decisions affect others and somehow still manage to live completely satisfying, privileged lives.
I’ve been asked why I care so much about Indigenous people. Eleven years ago when I wrote the following article for the Campbell River Mirror, although I struggled psycho-emotionally, I still very much lived a pampered, privileged life. Sandy Miller taught me the need to slow down in the company of Indigenous people. Slow down. Assess your thoughts before passing words through your lips.
Why do I care so much about Indigenous people? I’ve experienced social assistance. I know what it’s like to be downtrodden enough to need it and stripped of my dignity for needing it. I know what it’s like to be generous with my time, energy and resources on the one hand, while being called a “freeloader” and “tax burden” for simply needing help and being left for dead on the other. I know what it’s like to be a grownup with clipped wings living in the midst of corruption, I mean, capitalism. I know what it’s like to be denied access to necessary healthcare because I couldn’t afford it, and I know what it’s like to live with the consequences.
As a white person, however, I don’t know what it’s like to have my family and culture raped, pillaged and murdered, or what it’s like to be subject to an Indian Act.
Now, let’s pause for a moment and bust the myth that all Indigenous people (save for the cats who work in petroleum) live off social assistance and so-called handouts for a living. Most of the Indigenous people I have the privilege to call friend work more than me, earn more money than me, and pay more income taxes than me. According to a study conducted by the Toronto Dominion Bank of Canada and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business in 2011, Indigenous people were net contributors to the Canadian economy by 11 billion dollars. Google “TD and the Aboriginal Market.” If that’s not contributing to a “healthy” economy, I don’t know what is.
Meanwhile, not only is the notion of “healthy competition” an oxymoron, it’s indoctrination. Healthy competition can’t exist without integrity, meaning you won’t find greed in a healthy atmosphere. Without integrity, nothing or no one is healthy. Integrity is the elixir of evolution and provides a fertile breeding ground for progress.
I’ve heard people say things like “lean hard in challenging times,” but what if your friends, family and fellow taxpayers call you a drain in challenging times? Furthermore, what is your definition of “challenging times”?
What if you don’t have anyone to lean on as a result of remote access barriers? What if you just lost your leg because you didn’t have access to a trust fund, sugar daddy, or healthcare coverage to prevent the necessity of losing your leg in the first place? What if you were taken from your parents? What if your children were taken from you?
If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to these questions based on experience, then you are privileged. Fear activates cortisol, while anger activates the production of adrenaline in the body. The activation of both stress hormones within the body shunts blood from the organs to the limbs. We call this the fight-flight-freeze response. Cortisol feeds viruses, not yet known or shared by science. You know those mystery autoimmune illnesses everyone seems to suffer from these days? Viruses. Cortisol. Fear. (For more information, see the work of Anthony William.) What is causing the fear? Governments mismanaging money. Unfair taxation systems. Rising costs of living. Prejudice. Despair. Division. Imagine, living in a hospital because you can’t afford a place to live, and you just lost your leg because you couldn’t afford appropriate healthcare to manage your condition. If that was your white grandpa, would you call him a tax burden and tell him to get a job?
Habitual thinking patterns form grooves in the brain, created by neurons firing and subsequently wiring together. Under chronically stressful circumstances where a person experiences next to zero relief from stress hormones depleting the kidneys, adrenals and other organs, that toxic cortisol continually flushing through the system eats away insulation protecting the nerves. Uninsulated nerves (hypersensitivity) along with a chronic playback loop of horrifying experiences (habitual thinking patterns) is what medical psychology calls post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Untreated PTSD can create a range of undesirable health consequences, depending on a person’s environment and genes. Keeping in mind that chronic stress activates 99 percent of dormant genetic dis-ease potentiality—meaning that approximately 99 percent of the time, environment determines genetic expression.
I can’t help but think back to high school in Alberta, when we young and ignorant teenagers would trespass out in what we called the boons and party on private property. Owners of the various properties—stoners, boners, acid flats (to name a few)—called the cops on us regularly, but not one time did any of us mostly white kids ever take a bullet to the head for trespassing on another person’s property. We just kept trespassing and partying and getting away.
A number of times the farmer who owned stoners (one of our favoured party locales), even dragged a big, black, dead, stinking cow out to where we’d place the fire pit, hoping that the stench of dead, rotting cow would deter our persistently, unlawful misconduct. Nope. The boys we partied with had trucks and dragged the dead cow away.
Yet, in the case of Colten Boushie versus Gerald Stanley, not only was it completely illegal for Boushie to trespass on Stanley’s property, but it was also completely legal for Stanley to kill Boushie for trespassing. So I guess then that the moral of the story is that trespassing on another person’s land is pardonable only if you’re a white person.
The cerebral cortex is the region of the brain that registers empathy and compassion, but not in psychopaths and heavily narcissistic people. That is basically what our conundrum on planet Earth comes down to: reorganizing psychopathy.
Trees don’t grow from the leaves down. Likewise, the roots of reconciliation must be planted from the citizens and grow upwards.
Harold King obviously wasn’t enthusiastic about a young, white co-op reporter sitting at his bedside snapping photos. Sandy Miller taught me to allow Indigenous people to gather their thoughts, something I implore myself to work at—allowing people to gather their thoughts. Not everyone’s thoughts rifle out of their mouths like mine. I didn’t have any friends up island, so after meeting Harold King near the beginning of the co-op, I would visit him on my down time from the paper and bring him fresh canned salmon from my roommate. He liked fresh salmon. That made us both momentarily happy. I didn’t expect him to like me or give me anything in return. Those visits were about soothing him.
Campbell River Mirror
Friday, May 11, 2007
by Jill Lang
Harold King smiled once during his brief meeting with Aboriginal Liaison Nurse Sandy Miller, just outside the hospital doors. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders—face lit like a proud, adoring father—but only for a moment.
Miller is VIHA’s Aboriginal liaison nurse in Campbell River, and her efforts in the past three years have earned her the trust of Aboriginal people like King, as well as the respect of fellow health care workers. Her goal? Bring voice to First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.
“When I first met Sandy, I didn’t think too much of her because she was white,” says King, adding it took him two years to warm up to her.
In that time, Miller helped King find a podiatrist for his feet and reconnected him with management for diabetes. King lost part of his leg seven months ago and has been living in the hospital ever since, because he can’t find a place to live.
As an Aboriginal liaison nurse, Miller works with peoples’ strengths to lift their spirits, because a strong spirit, she says, is the medicine that helps them heal. But, her career didn’t start out this way.
Miller grew up in rural Ontario, then relocated to Australia after nursing in Canada just under 10 years.
Before the move, Miller worked in an intensive care unit in the U.S. to gain American nursing accreditation, after which she emigrated to Australia in 1993 on a one-year working visa.
“The moment my visa went up, I knew I had the freedom to go wherever I wanted to,” she says. “I got scooped up by the Australian Catholic university in ’94 and lectured in the biophysical sciences and the philosophy of nursing.”
From there Miller transferred to Grifith university in North Brisbane, where she taught and finished her bachelor of nursing.
Instead of renewing her contract in 1998, though, Miller went sailing through the Solomon Islands, Philippines and Micronesia. Her passion for Aboriginal health sparked during this adventure, so she abandoned teaching university and her high-powered medical career to explore a field that would one day bring her back to Canada.
“There were whole civilizations that had never seen an immunization or hypodermic needle, or a bandaid,” says Miller. “And they were perfectly healthy.”
“There were whole civilizations that had never seen an immunization or hypodermic needle, or bandaid, and they were perfectly healthy.”
Miller worked in Aboriginal health in the Australian outback for three years before migrating back to Canada with her husband Tim Miller.
“I plucked [Tim] out of the desert in Australia and said we’d only go back to Canada for six months to show him B.C.,” says Miller. “That was six years ago and we’re still here.”
The pair first settled in New Westminster in the lower Mainland in 2001, but Miller wasn’t content living an urban lifestyle. A couple years later, they ferried over to Vancouver Island and rode their motorcycles up, up, up until they found Campbell River.
“I knew it was home,” she said. “There’s something magic here.”
Mountains and seas with seals bobbing up and down in the waters swept Miller up.
“I’ll never forget this,” says Miller, “it was 10 to 4 that Friday, and we rock in wearing our motorcycle gear… and [we] ask to see the director of nursing.
“My husband is also a nurse, so we sit down and say we’d like to have jobs—I do Aboriginal health and my husband does emergency. She pretty much hired us right there saying we’d fit in well with the community.”
A fitting statement considering Miller is now VIHA’s Aboriginal Health Liaison, and her husband the North Island emergency department’s educator.
The Millers officially planted their feet here in 2004, and haven’t looked back. As Aboriginal Liaison Nurse, Miller helps bring two cultures together so that Aboriginal or First Nations people can more easily receive health care.
Say for instance, a person needs surgery. Pre-op clinics are almost always necessary, so a patient would have to travel to Campbell River from their home in a remote village like Kyuquot. There is much information to absorb from paperwork and handouts alone, and sometimes there is a discrepancy between the surgeon’s recommendation and the prescription label.
Patients will either call Miller and ask for help, or do nothing because they don’t know assistance is available to them.
“These access barriers to surgeries are how people got sick in the first place,” says Miller.
“These access barriers to surgeries are how people got sick in the first place.”
People who live in rural or remote communities like Kyuquot or Kingcom only have access to doctors once every two weeks, she says.
Child-raising is usually done by the elders, because mom’s are off studying or working.
The child’s health is always put first, so for the providers in these isolated regions, the implications of seeking health care are daunting.
“[The elders] need to be knocking on death’s door before they even consider seeing a doctor,” says Miller. “If we remove that person—the glue that holds the family and the community together—there’s a big void and it’s really stressful on the home.”
Miller is responsible for ensuring a positive hospital experience for the patient, providing access to the family and linking the patient up to community supports (i.e. a health care and medical supplies) upon discharge. This, she says, is the strongest part of her job.
A big part of her job is educating hospital staff in cultural competence.
“This happens when you know how you and your actions impact another person from a different culture,” she says. “We need to be sensitive to Aboriginal needs.”
Her efforts haven’t gone unappreciated.
Last year, the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people in Kyuquot adopted Miller, a tremendous honour for which she received a celebration of life feast.
“These two beautiful elders adopted me and gave me an Indian name,” she says. “I vowed that I would always honour my place in their family as their daughter.
“Being with the elders is my favourite part of this job.
“They’re the silent leaders, they keep everyone and everything together and they’re so wise because they share their teachings.”
Miller says her boss Darlene McGougan is a true visionary for Aboriginal health, and thinks celebrating National Nurses Week (May 7 to 12) and National Aboriginal Nurses Day (May 13) is a good opportunity to recognize nurses for more than what they do.
The position of liaison nurse demands love, courage and strength—all qualities of which Miller emanates naturally, adding to her spirited charm.
“When I see things change for the better because someone’s voice has been heard,” Miller said, “that’s the ultimate reward.”