Power To Choose

Aimee (Rodriguez) Louis (2011)

Growing Back to Her Roots

This AWSN Scholarship winner is committed to learning about her Aboriginal culture and helping rebuild nations into strong, healthy and self-sufficient communities. “I'm really passionate about going back to the community,” says Aimee Louis, a second-year med student at the University of Alberta who is of Cree descent. Although Aimee grew up in the mining town of Thompson in Northern Manitoba, she was not raised in the traditional ways of her people. “This was the main reason I wanted to take native studies in university, because I think a part of me was missing. I wanted to learn more and become culturally competent,” she says.

In 2009, Aimee completed her undergraduate degree at the Faculty of Native Studies, including a certificate in Aboriginal Partnership and Governance, which she says provided her with a solid base of knowledge in management issues, negotiation strategies, Aboriginal law, governance and policy.

“Ideally, I would like to practice Family Medicine and work with underserved populations within the Aboriginal community. But I realize that because I didn’t grow up on a reserve, people might view me as an outsider. That’s why it was so important for me to gain the proper cultural perspective.  I want to apply this knowledge to overcoming barriers to achieving holistic health care and help rebuild our nations into strong, healthy and self-sufficient communities.”

Aimee moved from Manitoba to Alberta ten years ago in hopes of finding a fresh start. “I went to Mount Royal College for the first 2 years of my degree and transferred to Edmonton, where I began minoring in Native Studies. When I started learning about the history of residential schools, it made me realize that I could have an even larger impact if I went into medicine instead,” she says, adding that it wasn’t too large of a leap to make. “Science has always been my passion. I’ve always had a lot of goals in mind, but most of them came back to science.”

Now on the path to completing her Doctor of Medicine Degree, Aimee recently did an internship through Alberta Health Services STEP program, shadowing with Dr. Ellen Toth’s diabetes mobile clinic in rural communities, reserves and Métis settlements. She has also been rounding out her rural medicine experience by gaining more spiritual guidance.

“I did a four-month leadership program with Aboriginal Women’s Professional Association (AWPA) to learn about the medicine wheel and other cultural aspects before being paired up with a mentor; in this case, an elder, who took me to sweats and shared her teachings with me for one year. In April, there was a drum ceremony where all the elders gathered together, and revealed the spiritual name that is a gift from my ancestors: Seven Star Woman. There are seven nations and so, the seven stars represent each nation. I’m supposed to learn the story behind my name from elders along my spiritual journey and then lead a good life on the ‘straight path’ according to the story.”

Aimee is well on her way, simply judging by her dedication to the Aboriginal community and commitment to her ability to stand up and serve as both a leader and role model – which she credits to growing up with seven brothers and sisters. She was chosen as the Global Health Advocate and elected as Co-President of the Aboriginal Health Group (AHG), most recently putting on a Culturally Appropriate Use of Tobacco presentation for groups in Edmonton and Northern Alberta and participating on the organizing committee for Aboriginal Health Awareness Week at the U of A. “What I love most about what I do is that I’m learning to communicate with people. As a doctor, you want your patients to build a relationship of trust with you and open up when you talk with them.” Aimee, who was married in April after meeting her husband at the Faculty of Native Studies, is also a yoga instructor who enjoys traveling. 

“We love seeing the mountains, being in nature and going to powwows in the summertime.  Exploring Canada is important to me because it’s the land of my people and there’s so much I still want to discover in this country, like the East Coast. I hope to someday combine working in Family Medicine with travel and perhaps do some locums in northern communities, but I’m open to whatever the future has in store.”

Written by Barbara Chabai