Trevor Hurst is out the door and navigating the barren, prairie landscape of southwestern Manitoba before the clock strikes 7 a.m.
The longtime lead singer of Econoline Crush has become accustomed to touring Canada’s highways since the Canadian rock band formed in the early ’90s.
But it’s the approximately 100-kilometre drive from Brandon, where he lives, to Canupawakpa Dakota Nation that the 58-year-old has become more familiar with in recent years.
The singer was living in Vancouver when a conversation with a neighbour prompted him to consider a career shift, so he moved to Manitoba’s second-biggest city and enrolled in a psychiatric nursing program at the local university.
In 2016, Hurst traded in his microphone for a stethoscope and took a job as a nurse in the Dakota community of about 300.
“I wanted to do something just a bit more meaningful … I wanted to have a job that there was a demand for and that I wasn’t going to have to hustle for gigs because I’ve done that with music my whole life up to that point,” Hurst said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.
Hurst’s own mental health deteriorated around this time, after his mother died from cancer. The experience left him crushed and unsure if he was ready to work with seniors.
A friend encouraged the singer to apply for the job in Canupawakpa, which had struggled to hire a nurse.
Hurst remembers showing up to the community with second thoughts about the job. After a “pretty intense” interview, during which Hurst said he answered each question honestly, he was offered the position and asked to start the next day.
As Hurst began working with community members, the thing that initially halted him from finding a job in the field actually helped him heal.
“Having elders to talk to and them sharing stories and sharing experiences with me … I developed a bond with the people,” he said. “That was something that (helped) me overcome my own demons.”
The transition from singer to a home and community-care nurse wasn’t seamless.
As a non-Indigenous person, Hurst was aware he would have to work to earn the trust of residents and show them he wasn’t “there for a paycheque.”
Indigenous Peoples have detailed the discrimination and inequities they have endured going through the western medical system.
Many First Nations in Manitoba are without access to reliable health services, often relying on a rotation of temporary nurses or doctors, or having to travel to larger cities to receive care. This can lead to an erosion in trust for Indigenous patients and a lack of cultural awareness.
Lola Thunderchild, the former chief of Canupawakpa, said this isn’t the case with Hurst. She’s known him for about five years and considers him a friend.
The singer took a leave from nursing to care for his newborn daughter around 2019, but Thunderchild convinced Hurst to come back last year.
“Trevor always seems to get (his patients). I don’t know how he does it, but he always gets their trust. He puts that time and effort in,” said Thunderchild.
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report in 2015, Thunderchild saw the effect it had on elders in Canupawakpa. It reopened old wounds for residential school survivors and stressed the importance of having mental health supports in the community.
Hurst credits two of his university professors, who were Indigenous women, for opening his eyes to the role that culture plays in health care.
“Having a place to live, safe water and all these different things affects how your life unfolds and how you can chase your dreams,” said Hurst.
“It did open my eyes to the wrongs that were forced on Indigenous communities.”
Thunderchild said she is proud of Hurst’s work in and out of the nation. The rapport he has built with his patients while embracing Dakota culture and western medicine makes for a more holistic approach, she said.
Econoline Crush released and toured its latest album, “When the Devil Drives,” last year.
Last summer, Thunderchild wanted to reciprocate Hurst’s support to the community. So she brought eights vans filled with his clients to a music festival in southern Manitoba where Econoline Crush was performing.
Many were surprised to learn their beloved nurse was the lead singer of a Juno-nominated rock band.
“They were totally blown away seeing him rock like that onstage. They just loved that,” Thunderchild said.
While Hurst continues to juggle the demands of being a musician, a father and a nurse, he knows it’s worth it when his clients seek him out in their most vulnerable moments knowing he will do his best to make it right.
“That to be has been my biggest reward, just to be part of the fabric of this community.”
Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press