Montana Diabo always wanted to become a veterinarian.
After uprooting her life and moving more than 3,000 kilometers from her community to an island in the Caribbean, the 30-year-old’s dream has finally come true.
“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 lot of studying. I feel very accomplished to have gone through this.”
Diabo said she has wanted to work with animals since she was a child and took her first steps into the veterinary world when she completed a university 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 doctorate in 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 the College of Veterinary Medicine in Ohio State University.
Although she’s had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of animals, Diabo is most proud of helping to remove a large chest tumor from a husky after all non-surgical options were exhausted.
“He recovered very well,” Diabo said. “It was just an amazing feeling when we returned it to its owners.”
Return expertise to the 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 experience in the field.
“I don’t think I could have gotten this far without the help and encouragement from everyone back home,” Diabo said.
“It was motivation 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 that Indigenous people have access to these resources in a culturally appropriate way and even better if these resources can come from their own people,” said Poitras-Oster, who works in Drayton Valley, Alberta.
Need for greater Indigenous representation
However, Indigenous vets working in Canada are rare, she said. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association said it does not have statistics on the national representation of Indigenous veterinarians.
Retired veterinarian Roberta Duhaime said lack of data is also an issue in the United States.
Duhaime, who is also Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake, spent three decades working as a veterinarian and epidemiologist for government agencies across the United States.
Although Duhaime has met few Indigenous colleagues, she believes it is important that young people – like Diabo – enter the field to advocate for the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives in the profession.
“Somebody has to come and help change it. Otherwise it will never change,” Duhaime said.
Diabo hopes she can be a role model for younger generations in Indigenous communities who aspire to a career in animal medicine.
“When I wanted to become a veterinarian, I really had no one to turn to for advice…. I kind of had to figure it out on my own,” Diabo said.
“I’m paving the way… I feel a bit like a pioneer. In fact, I open the field to all future Aboriginal students who wish to pursue their careers. »