Minnesota Nursing magazine

Standing Rock

Health care from an indigenous-centered perspective

DNP grad inspired by Standing Rock’s integrative approach
Brett Stursa

Rosemary Fister spent the first days of the new year studying for her board exams.

After graduating in the spring of 2016 from the Doctor of Nursing Practice program, she was preparing for the psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner exam. But her studies weren’t in a quiet library or on the couch at home.

Instead, she juggled her exam preparation while volunteering with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council in North Dakota. “I am honored to be at Standing Rock during a historic convergence of tribal nations defending sacred sites, land sovereignty and natural land, air and water resources,” said Fister. “The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council is dedicated to being here as people stand in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline and strives to be an indigenous-led and matriarchal collective.”

Initially, Fister went to Standing Rock to help with a needs assessment of infrastructure at the camp. “The population grew very quickly and they wanted someone with a public health understanding to be able to take stock of what was there and what the needs were,” said Fister. “At one point, the camps collectively had 12,000 people. So the infrastructure needs included drinking water, sanitation, toilets and having access to emergency medical response.”

While at the camp, Fister saw police use a water cannon on protesters, resulting in a mass causality incident with 300 injuries. “After seeing what I saw that night and being surprised that nobody died, I was concerned about what something like an eviction of over 10,000 people would look like and the potential for a mass causality incident that could be much worse,” she said.

So Fister stayed on, as the temperatures dipped well below zero. “We work and live out of tipis, yurts and other structures heated by wood we chop, water we carry, food we eat together,” said Fister.

Soon she took on the role of volunteer coordinator. “We have not just doctors, nurses and western providers, we also have a yurt set up specifically for midwives attending to women’s health care needs. There’s another space with herbalists, influenced greatly by one of our matriarchs from the area.

There is a space for bodyworkers, massage, acupuncture, cranial sacral, and there is a mental health and emotional well-being space, all working with each other to respond to health needs,” said Fister.

Providers refer patients to one another and learn about other ways of addressing health care problems. “We come from an indigenous-centered perspective and know that medicine historically has been used sometimes violently as a tool of oppression. The way we talk about that to volunteers coming through is that we are decolonizing medicine. Part of that means working with a variety of modalities and offering options so that people have choices about the kind of care that they choose to seek.”

This integrated, integrative approach was one Fister was already comfortable with. “I am lucky to have been in the psych mental health program at the University of Minnesota because there is a big focus on integrative health and healing woven throughout that program. It is incredible to see a health care system that is coming together so organically that includes all of those different opportunities for healing.”



Rosemary Fister was volunteer coordinator at Standing Rock in North Dakota in the fall/winter 2016.