Know Your Heroes: Ashley Migwans

Know Your Heroes showcases the many different people and roles that make up #TeamUHN. We celebrate these people, who strive to make the world a healthier place every day.

Name: Ashley Migwans
Title: Program Coordinator, Indigenous Health & Social Medicine, UHN
Number of years working in health care: 12 years
Hometown: M’Chigeeng First Nation, Mnidoo Mnising (Manitoulin Island)

I decided to get into health care because my grandfather, Ernie (Ernest Louis) Debassige, always stressed the importance of “getting an education” and encouraged me to “get into the health field,” as he said there were not enough Anishinaabek in health care. Growing up on a small reserve, my grandfather (along with my family) had always strongly supported our culture, sports and academics. He encouraged us to do the best we can so that when we had to move away for school, we not only survived, but we thrived, and eventually would grow to hold positions where we could help support, advocate for, and give back to our people. My journey has taken me from kinesiology and providing rehabilitation services and administration support back home, to UHN, where I started with the Department of Medical Oncology and Hematology in 2015, to my current role with the Indigenous Health Program.

My role here at UHN is to firstly support the health and well-being of First Nations, Inuit and Métis patients and their families with compassion and respect. This includes providing direct one-to-one support, facilitating requests for ceremony or connection to Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Healers or community supports, and providing advocacy or attending debrief sessions if an incident occurs. The Indigenous Health Program is also committed to supporting the well-being of all Indigenous staff and learners so that we can learn and work in an environment that respects and values our Indigenous identities. This includes upholding UHN to their commitment to high-quality, equitable care for all patients, addressing the significant health gaps that continue to exist for Indigenous peoples, and advocating for culturally safe and responsive, high-quality, trauma-informed care that is free of racism and discrimination.

COVID-19 has affected me by adjusting the way I connect with people. As an Anishinaabe, I am an in-person, want-to-get-to-know-you (beyond your title/role), let’s-go-for-a-walk/grab-a-coffee type of person, so transitioning to primarily virtual interactions was quite the adjustment. However, one thing that this past year has shown me is that there are many different ways to get to know one another and stay connected. I’ve participated in many professional development and self-interest webinars and classes offered online that I may not have been able to attend otherwise, and have even found ways to stay connected culturally and to my community through online teachings or beading sessions with friends and family. There are often many different ways of doing a single thing – sometimes we just need to give ourselves a gentle reminder that we need to be open to seeing and doing things in a different way.

The thing I love the most about my job is working for the community, alongside amazing, wonderful Indigenous colleagues, and to see and feel the support from allies.

The most incredible thing I’ve seen at work is how impactful and life-changing it can be to show love, compassion and kindness to one another. I’ve witnessed this many times through interactions between administrative assistants and patients, healthcare personnel, facilities staff, and from TeamUHN when they came out to support the Honouring Ceremony that was held earlier in June. Working within a healthcare organization, we all have that amazing opportunity to offer compassion and kindness, and be that light to help make the experience at UHN a positive one.

I’m inspired by Buddy – our family dog (not Buddy the Elf, though also pretty inspiring). His unfaltering love, playfulness and sheer joy he brings truly warms my heart. He inspires me to do the same for myself and others (we have so much to learn from all our relations, including the four-legged ones).

One of my personal heroes is my family because I am thankful every day for their guidance. My grandparents for teaching me perseverance and resilience. My mother Cecile for teaching me strength and to not be afraid, to speak up and use my voice. My father Cheyenne Sr. for teaching me to always work hard and showing me what it means to truly be humble. My sister Nicole for encouraging me and teaching me to always believe in myself. My brother Cheyenne Jr. for reminding me to relax and enjoy life. My brother Montana for teaching me generosity. And my partner, Kyle, for sharing a beautiful life with me guided by love, respect, reciprocity, kindness and laughter.

I sometimes worry about ongoing action toward reconciliation. As Indigenous peoples, we cannot do this work alone. We need ongoing commitment, support and advocacy from our allies. We need all our relations to stand together in solidarity and continue to work toward health equity.

I’ve found joy recently from cycling and gardening. I have not consistently been on a bike since childhood, but through the City of Toronto’s Bike Share program, I have enjoyed biking to work and around town on the evenings/weekends. I’ve also been enjoying learning alongside the amazing team working on the Michener Gitigan (garden), not to mention the exercise it provides.

My favourite book is too hard to pick because I love reading. There are too many amazing books, genres and authors to name, though I am drawn to fiction, mystery, horror (Stephen King) and fantasy. I particularly enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, for its story and lessons about survival, and also recommend the collection of essays titled A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott for the very real insights to what many Indigenous people have (and continue to) experience.  

My ideal day off is enjoying Shkagamik-Kwe (Mother Earth). Being outside and appreciating all the gifts that she offers, whether that’s going out for a walk, running in the rain, a day out on the lake fishing, a round of golf, enjoying camp life, or spending time with my partner and family outside.

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