Indigenous paramedic student following the best path forward

Getting a high school diploma was a struggle for Ina Fairbanks, but she completed it and is now in the Applied Bachelors and Health and Science Paramedic Program at Medicine Hat College.

She has decided to extend her program time, finishing the degree in five years rather than three.

“I really struggled graduating from high school. I had to live with another family apart from my own just so they could teach me how to study and how to do the work so I would have a chance at graduating,” she said.

Fairbanks worked as a firefighter for five years prior to attending MHC. While Fairbanks assisted an overdose patient at Kainai Indian Days, three Calgary police officers criticized everything she did.

“I was unsure of myself and took the time to argue back with them,” she said. “I didn’t want to go through that again as a professional.”

Comparing herself to others, she realizes, is unproductive and has allowed Fairbanks to enjoy her college classes and learn from them. She is hoping her education will help her handle similar situations better

“Going forward I know it won’t be the last, as a woman and also an Indigenous woman on and off the reserve. I know I need the tools and I know Medicine Hat College can provide me with them to be a better version of myself, whatever that might look like.”

Fairbanks grew up on the Kainai Nation, Treaty 7 territory, and is learning to speak her native Blackfoot language. She is the first Indigenous woman from her reservation attending MHC to get an education and bring it back home.

“On our reservation, there are currently no advanced care paramedics at this time.”

There are others working toward a degree, but she is the only woman and hopes to inspire others.

“I want to go back home and serve my people when they’re in their most vulnerable and traumatic state of mind,” she said. “I think they deserve that type of empathy from an Indigenous person to an Indigenous person. People don’t understand the traumas we come by. To be able to speak to my people in our language and communicate with my Elders on a call. To make them feel a bit more comfortable knowing I am an Indigenous person from their reserve.”

In addition to going to school, Fairbanks runs a business called Something Wonderful Studios. Her husband,Mekethi, helps her manage the business, but she is the owner-artist and creates the designs.

Fairbanks found it hard to come off the reserve and move to a new place. Recognizing attending MHC was her only option to get away from her past life was very stressful. Ômahksípiitaa (Big Eagle), the new gathering space dedicated to Indigenous teaching, learning and events at MHC, has become a home away from home for Fairbanks. It helps her to be able to recognize other Indigenous students and has built a sense of community she feels she needed.

The primary reasons Fairbanks wants to share her story is, “I want other people who think they can’t do it to know they can. From not being able to graduate to working as hard as I could and getting myself into college, the fact is I am here now and I am doing it. Even though it’s been a hurdle just going to school, I am adapting in ways I know are best for me.”

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SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News