Montana Diabo always wanted to become a veterinarian.
After uprooting her life and moving 3,000-plus kilometres away from her community to a Caribbean island, the 30-year-old’s dream finally turned to reality.
“I feel super accomplished,” said Diabo, who is Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) from Kahnawake, south of Montreal.
“It was a lot of work, a lot of fears, a whole lot of studying. I feel very accomplished to have gotten through that.”
Diabo said she wanted to work with animals since she was a child and took her first step into the veterinary world by taking a college animal health technician program. After graduating, she worked at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Montreal for five years before deciding to take the leap to study abroad.
She earned her doctor of veterinary medicine through an accelerated program at the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine on the Caribbean island of Saints Kitts and Nevis, followed by a year of clinical training at Ohio State University’s college of veterinary medicine.
While she had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of animals, Diabo is most proud of helping remove a large chest tumour from a husky after all non-surgical options were exhausted.
“He recovered really nicely,” said Diabo. “It was just such an amazing feeling when we returned him back to his owners.”
Bringing back expertise to community
Diabo is doing a three-month mentorship at North Country Veterinary Services in upstate New York, but her long-term goal is to return to Kahnawake to open her own clinic after gaining more on-the-job experience.
“I don’t think I would have made it this far without the help and encouragement of everyone back home,” said Diabo.
“It was a drive to keep going when things got really tough.”
The need for veterinary health services in Indigenous communities is great, according to Métis veterinarian Dayle Poitras-Oster.
“It’s important for Indigenous people to have access to those resources in a culturally appropriate way and even better if those resources can come from their own people,” said Poitras-Oster, who works in Drayton Valley, Alta.
Need for greater Indigenous representation
However, Indigenous veterinarians working in Canada are few and far between, she said. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association said it did not have statistics on what the national representation may be of Indigenous veterinarians.
Retired veterinarian Roberta Duhaime said the lack of data is an issue in the United States as well.
Duhaime, who is also Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake, spent three decades working as veterinary medical officer and epidemiologist for government agencies across the United States.
Although Duhaime encountered few Indigenous colleagues, she feels it is important for young people — like Diabo — to enter the field to advocate for the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives in the profession.
“Somebody has to come in and help change it. Otherwise it’ll never change,” said Duhaime.
Diabo hopes she can be a role model to younger generations in Indigenous communities with aspirations of a career in animal medicine.
“When I wanted to become a veterinarian, I didn’t really have anyone to turn to to ask for advice…. I kind of had to figure it out on my own,” said Diabo.
“I’m opening up a path…. I feel like a little like trailblazer. I’m actually I’m opening it up up the field for any future Indigenous students who would like to pursue the career.”