Indigenous nursing program receives national grant

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Following a competitive federal application process, the Niganawenimaanaanig Indigenous Nursing Program at Bemidji State University has been awarded $2.2 million to continue its innovative support services for indigenous nursing students. The 4-year award will provide funding until 2025.

The program has graduated students from a number of tribal nations, including Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Three Affiliated Tribes.

Niganawenimaanaanig is led by Dr. Misty Wilkie, program director and professor of nursing at Bemidji State University, who says that creating the program has been the realization of lifelong dream.

Wilkie graduated from Turtle Mountain High School and attended a semester at the community college before moving to Minnesota. The majority of her family, including her parents, still live in the Turtle Mountains.

Basing the program’s service model upon her own life experiences as an Indigenous woman, student nurse and professor, Wilkie believes that BSU’s support and geographic location among Minnesota’s three largest tribal nations (Red Lake, White Earth, and Leech Lake), have made it an ideal fit for supporting Indigenous nursing students through graduation. A 2017 National Council of State Boards of Nursing survey found that nurses from minority backgrounds represented 19.2% of the RN workforce, with American Indians/Alaskan Natives comprising only 0.4%.

Now entering its fifth year, Niganawenimaanaanig supports Indigenous nursing students within BSU’s four-year and RN-BS tracks, that are enrolled members of a tribal nation or a descendant of an enrolled member, providing them relevant academic, financial, cultural and social support. In addition to staffing and holistic services, which includes a dedicated full-time mentor, grant funds will provide expanded student scholarships and monthly stipends.

To date, the program has awarded more than $500,000 to students as they work towards their bachelor’s degrees in nursing. In four years, Niganawenimaanaanig has served 38 nursing students from 15 different tribal nations and has already graduated 17 nurses who are now working in underserved communities.


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