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Equity-in-Practice: Arrow Big Smoke

By Ashley Mollison

Arrow Big Smoke is a proud member of the Blackfoot Confederacy and is registered with the Piikani Nation. She is also a Registered Nurse with over 10 years of experience working in emergency care, harm reduction, and community health. Now working for Alberta Health Services, Arrow is one of three Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigators in the province. In this role, Arrow advocates and supports Indigenous clients in their cancer care journeys.

Arrow is driven by personal and professional experiences of witnessing the ongoing impacts of Canada’s colonial history. She describes how residential schools and TB sanatoriums set the stage for an approach to Indigenous people’s health that lacked consent, let alone involvement. Due to the reality of medical and intergenerational trauma, Arrow sees supporting people and their families to understand, have a voice, and be involved in medical decisions as a key part of her job. Learning from Elders and Knowledge Keepers who relay information through storytelling, Arrow notes that rushing, being preoccupied, or not being present with patients and clients can mean missing essential information to direct care.

When supporting people facing a variety of social needs, Arrow has found that her clients’ experiences of juggling their doctors, diagnostic, and treatment appointments, as well as appointments with supportive services, can be exhausting and overwhelming. Seeking support for broader health needs, Arrow was inspired to create the Indigenous Cancer Patient Multidisciplinary Rounds in Calgary. Consisting of oncology and palliative care practitioners, resource social workers, admin staff, and others involved in the client’s care, these rounds provide an opportunity for advocacy, collaborative working, and shared communication. Through these rounds, Arrow has developed a relationship with Calgary’s Allied Mobile Palliative Program (CAMPP). CAMPP and Arrow have worked together to support clients, particularly those living on the street, with their housing, income, and other social needs.

As Arrow works with clients and providers to build a better system of care for Indigenous people, she encourages providers to look for and recognize their client’s strengths. She says, “When you focus on the vulnerability, you miss the beautiful dynamics.” Her hope is that the knowledge and networking growing through the Indigenous Cancer Patient Multidisciplinary Rounds continues to have aripple effects and encourages the creation of safer and more inclusive environments in the cancer care sphere.

If you are interested in learning more about Arrow’s work or the Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigators program, please contact:

Arrow Big Smoke (she, her, she’s)

Indigenous Cancer Patient Navigator


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