Honoring Indigenous Scholars: In conversation with Margaret Moss


At the University of British Columbia (UBC), remarkable individuals shape the landscape of academic excellence and community engagement. Among them, Margaret Moss stands out as an outstanding leader in Indigenous research, nursing, and advocacy. Her journey at UBC, which began November of 2018, has been marked by transformative initiatives and a steadfast commitment to Indigenous students’ well-being. Join us in delving into Margaret’s remarkable accomplishments, as she shares her experiences in an insightful interview. 


Developing the Indigenous Strategic Plan:

Margaret's arrival at UBC in November 2018 as the Director of the First Nations House of Learning (FNHL) brought with it an opportunity to contribute significantly to the university's commitment to Indigenous communities and reconciliation. She was asked to co-lead the development of the Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP) alongside Sheryl Lightfoot, the Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Affairs.

With her unique background in both nursing and law, Margaret's expertise in strategic planning played a vital role in shaping the ISP. She initiated a transformation of the existing plan and focused on adapting the previous material to improve clarity and direction. Under her guidance, the ISP was reimagined to reflect the aspirations and goals of Indigenous communities, utilizing the valuable knowledge originally gathered by Linc Kesler in 2009 alongside new data collected from speaking with Indigenous staff, students, and faculty. The two-year journey culminated in the launch of the plan in September 2020, incorporating perspectives from staff, faculty, and students across both UBC campuses.


Creating a Safe Space for Indigenous Students:

In addition to her role in shaping the ISP, Margaret's commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive environment for Indigenous students led her to champion the establishment of an Indigenous Student Collegia. Drawing inspiration from existing programs, she collaborated with the UBC Collegia team to create a space that would cater to the needs of Indigenous students. 

Margaret's vision for the Collegia included two distinct features. Firstly, she wanted it to be open to students at all stages of their academic journey, recognizing that Indigenous students comprised a smaller portion of the university population and should be supported beyond just their first year.  Secondly, she emphasized the importance of creating a safe space by making it exclusively for Indigenous students.

The Collegia opened its doors in 2019, and it quickly became a well-loved hub for Indigenous students. Following a period of renovation during the pandemic-induced shutdown, the space now stands as a state-of-the-art facility. Equipped with modern amenities, including an electric fireplace, it offers students a welcoming environment that inspires community building and empowerment.


Spearheading the First Nations Longhouse Expansion Project:


Margaret played a pivotal role in spearheading the ambitious and long-overdue extension of the UBC First Nations Longhouse, which was completed in November 2021, three decades after its initial construction. 

The First Nations Longhouse Expansion project was undertaken to accommodate the significant growth of programs housed in the First Nations Longhouse at the UBC Point Grey campus, and aimed to provide additional space for the growing Indigenous student community, as well as academic meeting and support spaces.


Teaching at UBC School of Nursing:

Moss’s impactful contributions at UBC extend beyond the development of the ISP, the expansion of the longhouse, and the creation of the Indigenous Student Collegia. At the UBC School of Nursing, Margaret co-teaches a mandatory course on Indigenous People’s Health Promotion, Nursing 353, with Helen Brown, who Moss cites as a “wonderful, wonderful advocate” and notes that Brown likes to say “not ally, but accomplice”.

The road to the becoming a Nurse with Global Impact

Moss’s leadership extends far beyond her administrative responsibilities. Throughout her career, she has received numerous accolades recognizing her outstanding contributions to research and nursing. These include being awarded a Fulbright Research Chair at McGill University, where she investigated the challenges faced by Indigenous communities in the context of Census statistics and existing legislature. She discovered that despite the existing availability of data and national programs, many Indigenous people still faced barriers due to complex jurisdictional interactions. 

Moss’s dedication to addressing health disparities among Indigenous populations led her to write the first-ever nursing textbook on American Indian Health. Published in 2015, the textbook won two awards from the American Journal of Nursing and has become a widely used resource worldwide. She followed this achievement with another publication in 2020 titled “Health Equity in Nursing”, further solidifying her reputation as an influential figure in the field. 

Apart from her extensive research endeavors, Moss has actively engaged in policy work. As the sole Indigenous health care professional involved on the investigation team, she significantly contributed to the report titled “In Plain Sight.” The report addressed anti-Indigenous racism in British Columbia’s health care system and has gained recognition across Canada. 

Moss’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed on an international level. She was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing in 2008 and currently serves on its Board of Directors. In addition, she was invited to join a National Academy of Science Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) board, which in part likely led to her induction as a member of the prestigious National Academy of Medicine. 

Most recently, Moss was recently awarded with the Nurse with a Global Impact prize at the United Nations in New York. Nominated through an invitation, Moss’s contributions to nursing and global healthcare were recognized and celebrated alongside 12 other outstanding individuals from around the world. This remarkable achievement is a testament to Moss’s dedication and the positive influence she continues to have in her field. 


To learn more about the Nurse with Global Impact Award click here.


What does it mean to be Indigenous and do research at an institution like UBC? 

To be Indigenous anywhere, I’ve learned in healthcare, academia, and elsewhere, that most people don’t know too much about it. 

Let’s say I’m on a panel talking about long term care for elderly people. Most of the other panelists are from the dominant culture and can launch into whatever their point is. I find, if they give me 20 minutes, I have to spend 10 on Indians 101. People don’t know anything, so I have to prep my remarks or it won’t make any sense. To me, that’s a disparity. On the one hand you don’t want to ask for more time, but on the other hand, nobody knows what I’m talking about. I find that difficulty throughout. 


I find it difficult, not just here. I’ve been to four universities, five if you count McGill, and I’ve noticed you have to make the assumption that most people don’t know too much about it (the Indigenous context, history or realities) or if they know anything, it’s relatively shallow. 

I test this out more in the US, because that’s where I’m from, but if I give a talk there I’m usually talking with health professionals or researchers. I will start by asking, how many federally recognized tribes are in the US? There could be anywhere from 100 – 1;00,00 (1000) people in front of me and they never know the answer. Every once in a while there might be a Native person there and I’ll tell them they can’t answer.  

There is also another category called state-recognized, and so I’ll follow up by asking how many state recognized tribes there are. Finally, because I speak all over, I will also say, whose land are we on? 

If the people in the crowd can’t answer these 3 simple questions, how can they say, if they’re health professionals, that they’re giving culturally competent care as a health professional? 


In Canada, at least I find people are a little more savvy. People are starting to do a land acknowledgement and understand whose land they’re on, especially in academias. It’s fairly new in the US, I don’t hear it as much, and sometimes I'll go over there and give a land acknowledgement and people will be like “what are you doing?” but in Canada, at least you get that much. 

Having done In Plain Sight, again as the only Indigenous health professional on that team, I know I brought a couple of A-Ha moments. I thought it was important there that I was both Indigenous and a healthcare professional. 


As a nursing supervisor, I knew some things that the other people didn't know. I remember saying, “we should probably add security to our questions about ‘Where do you have trouble?’ It’s not just the nurses and doctors, in fact it's all the departments.”

Having been an Indigenous nurse in the US and a supervisor, I would get calls, like “oh there's a couple who isn't very happy. They’re at the front desk, go see them.” And they would be an Indigenous couple, who had been treated very badly. If you could see their faces when I turned the corner it was like “oh my god” they got the ONE Indigenous supervisor probably in the state and then I was able to help them, and they couldn’t believe it. Because it would have to be something very egregious for them to have to bring something up, and it was. 

Everywhere I go, I’m probably the only nurse, nursing supervisor, nurse researcher, etc. who is Indigenous Teaching the Nursing course here at UBC. I came in the second year it was being taught in 2018. I taught it in 2019 with Helen Brown, and again I was the only Indigenous nursing faculty to be able to teach that. Since then, we have gotten another Indigenous faculty. 

I’m very used to it, but those are some of the problems I think about, that you need Indigenous 101 or people just don’t get it. Whether it’s in research, papers I write or presentations I give, you have to make room for it because there is no instant base. 


What are thoughts about the current support for Indigenous research and relationships at UBC? Are there  a certain place or certain people that you feel really helped connect to this community?

From my time here, I would say that meeting Lerato Chondoma and understanding her huge community outreach and what a wonderful base she has, has been great to talk to her about. 

In nursing there’s also people like Helen Brown. I’m also working with Elizabeth Saewyc on a grant that she was instrumental in bringing forward. I got brought on as a co-lead. 

I work a lot with Eduardo Jovel, from the UBC Farm. We have an internal grant for $50,000 that we’ve always talked about since I got here. About the inside, in this case the inside of the House Learning and the outside Land Learning, because he has the farm, and how we would love to bring those two things together. Now he is the principal person writing this grant, I'm a co-lead with one other person and him. To start thinking about how we can have this research collective of land based wellness, inside and outside, I did that by building relationships with him.

I think by 2019, I had so many requests from people to smudge at the Longhouse. It’s not a Musqueam tradition, so I actually had to speak with Leona Sparrow and told her people want to do it. And she said, well make sure (again this was several years ago and I haven’t checked in recently) that it’s outside and tell people if it’s a crowd, now any body has the ability to go smudge themselves, but if it’s a formal thing, then to make a statement that although this is not a Musqueam tradition that they are allowing us to do this here. And then I wasn’t supposed to attach it to any ceremony like graduation. It’s multi-level. 

Then I went to Eduardo, who I know does smudging and has his fires out there, and ask him to come over. So then he would come over on Tuesdays, which was Indigenous lunch day from 2019-2020, and he would offer smudging out in our sacred circle. And that developed into us talking. So it’s all about time, relationships, and trust. 

Even when you are an Indigenous researcher, time, relationships, and trust, those are some of the most important things. You can’t just say ‘oh I think I’m gonna go do this’. Even as an Indigenous person, it still requires relationships and time. 

And so, those are some of the ones that are going on right now. There’s the collective with Eduardo, and Elizabeth who is working on a migration study. My part of that is figuring out how the TRC fits into the idea of migration and what it means to Indigenous people from their perspective of migration. Working with Elizabeth, who I’ve known for several years, she understands my strengths and thought to bring me in. 

[So there are pockets of community.] And also talking to Lerato and listening to her speak and give several presentations at ISPIC, which I run also, I think I forgot to say that, with the ISP I am the chair of ISPIC, which is the ISP implementation committee. I help implement that forward, mainly I help keep track of who's doing what. So I’ve had Lerato come speak at ISPIC and other things. UBC is just this net of people and places where you can make it happen. 

By sharing her expertise and advocating for Indigenous perspectives, Moss works to ensure that future healthcare professionals have a comprehensive understanding of Indigenous communities' needs. As the Director of the First Nations House of Learning and an esteemed faculty member in the School of Nursing and Applied Science and more, she embodies the spirit of leadership, compassion, and resilience.