Whether it’s becoming a nurse, musician or professional athlete – there’s an endless list of career opportunities that children dream of.
For Kahnawa’kehró:non Zoe McGregor, her long-time ambition to be a paramedic stems from her own mother’s career at the Kahnawake Fire Brigade (KFB) which began in the mid-2000s.
“It’s something I have always wanted to do just from watching my mother,” said the new addition of KFB’s paramedic team. “Talking about what she does was inspiring and I always aspired to be as good as her in life.”
As National Paramedic Services Week (NPSW) drew to an end on May 29, McGregor reflected on the vital work she, her mother and her sister now do in Kahnawake.
“We wear our heart on our shoulder, because this is our community and these are our people,” said the 26-year-old. “I think it is really important as an Indigenous person to give back and serve your community.”
NPSW is an occasion for citizens everywhere to celebrate their local emergency response workers, and KFB chief David Scott expressed the value of recognizing the day-to-day dedication of paramedics.
“All these people are invested in Kahnawake – every single one of them,” said Scott. “Nobody had a job when they came here, it was all purely volunteer and to help the community.”
The fire chief pointed out that their efforts extend well beyond regular service hours.
“It’s important to recognize paramedics for the work they do, especially in Kahnawake,” he expressed. “All of them do volunteer overnight shifts and weekend shifts where they don’t get paid – and they all do it for the community.”
With giving back to the community being a motivating factor for many Onkwehón:we choosing this career path, Kanesatake First Nations Paramedics (FNP) director Robert Bonspiel expressed how equally meaningful it is to have Indigenous first responders working the job.
“They represent everything that is First Nations and this includes their culturally pertinent approach,” said Bonspiel. “These are the first people that walk into danger, who come into your house and who take care of you – and always do so compassionately.”
In addition to serving Kanehsata’kehró:non, the FNP team uses its benevolent approach to assist with neighbouring communities which include Oka, St. Placide, Mirabel, Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac and Pointe-Calumet. “Serving so many communities adds a degree of difficulty,” explained Bonspiel.
Alongside the typical work performed by the FNP staff, Bonspiel said his team of paramedics continues to play an important role in the community’s battle against COVID-19.
Since vaccination campaigns began in the fall, the Kanesatake team has taken the lead in administering shots – facilitating the success of important clinics for community members, as well as Onkwehón:we from other Nations.
Much like in Kanesatake, KFB paramedics are also responsible for several tasks, which include volunteering to support firefighting duties.
“It is the type of job where you really need a tough skin,” expressed McGregor, who has worked for approximately five months with the brigade.
Because of the stress-inducing and often adverse conditions paramedics face while on the job, which have been amplified with the pandemic, she warned those thinking about joining to keep those obstacles in mind.
In spite of this, the young mother who gave birth to a daughter on January 3 could not keep her excitement to herself.
“Even though there were so many new challenges, I was so eager to get on this path and become a paramedic,” said McGregor. “Even though it can be a tough job at times, there is always so much appreciation, love and support from our community. It is a love that we feel every day.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door