Zoe Kreutzer is a proud member of the Upper Cayuga First Nation, a part of the Six Nations of the Grand River that unifies all the Haudenosaunee peoples, and one of the recipients of the 2023 Alberta Blue Cross® Indigenous scholarship.

Zoe Kreutzer goes rock climbing every week. She loves cycling, hiking and skiing. She mentors Indigenous girls through the Stardale Women’s Group, attends drumming and singing classes, and this year, she’ll apply for a Master’s in Counselling program that starts in fall 2024.  

Looking at her now, it would be hard to guess that she ever suffered a debilitating injury—let alone that it altered the course of her life.

Before 2021, Zoe was a graduated varsity athlete making a career for herself. She had been a proud member of the Dinos women’s soccer team for 5 years at the University of Calgary, and after graduating, she started working in the field of marketing. She could see her life’s path stretched ahead of her, but a severe concussion changed everything.

“I went from being a high-level athlete in the beginning of my career to being unable to do any physical or mental activity,” Zoe explains. “I couldn’t read, have long conversations or walk more than a short distance without experiencing dizzy spells. I spent weeks in a dark, quiet room, hiding from any stimulation.”

Suddenly, Zoe’s life was dominated by fogginess, headaches and vertigo. Her mental health took a toll and after months of being unable to work, she left her job permanently.

“For a long time, I felt isolated, lost and alone. Physio only seemed to make me worse, so I turned to my therapist for coping strategies … a spiritual approach to healing seemed to be my way out.”

Fortunately, Zoe still had coverage through the federal Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program, which provides medically necessary coverage for eligible First Nations and Inuit people, and which gave her access to a counsellor who would have otherwise been unaffordable.

Zoe began practicing meditation and healing visualizations daily. The changes were small at first, but over the course of a year, she saw significant improvements in her symptoms. It was during this time that Zoe went through a period of deep reflection and realized a career in marketing no longer fit her vision of the future. She was being called to a new path.

Once she was healthy enough to fit some gentle part-time work into her life, Zoe began volunteering with the Stardale Women’s Group and working with Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society. At the same time, she applied to go back to school for a degree in psychology, determined to become a NIHB-approved counselling psychologist.

“This scholarship has meant so much to me. I had to leave my part-time job in the fall semester because the toll of over-working started to make my symptoms more severe. Receiving this scholarship alleviated some of the financial stress so I could focus on my studies and not have to sacrifice my academic achievements just to make ends meet.”

Zoe is now in the second year of her 2-year after degree in psychology. By fall 2024, she plans to be starting her master’s program, where she can conduct research that involves community engagement and incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing into psychology.

“It is a goal of mine to ensure that Indigenous People in Canada are represented in research and that other, non-Western ways of knowing are recognized as valid and given an equal space in academia. Western approaches are often so individualized and based on a bio-medical model, one that focuses on deficits instead of strengths. I am no expert (yet), but I hope to learn how to heal the whole person—mind, body, emotions and spirit—through connection with the self and community. I want to bring Indigenous ways of knowing into my practice, because the medical model does not work for everyone. Spiritual and communal healing saved me.”

Applications for the Indigenous scholarship program are open until January 31, 2024. To learn more and apply, visit https://www.community.ab.bluecross.ca/programs/indigenous-scholarships.php.

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