Indigenous leaders take regional steps to tackle racism in health care

Monday, February 28th, 2022 4:36pm


By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Any means by which First Nations can hold the health system accountable and combat racism and discrimination in order to receive better services gets the nod of approval from Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald.

“Each region will have their own kind of response and their own solutions that they want to put forward and I’m going to support all the regions on this issue of how they roll out processes and solutions to begin to combat (racism and discrimination) within the health system,” said Archibald.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) was the latest organization to roll out a process to “ensure First Nations have a point of contact where they feel safe to be able to report incidents of discrimination when accessing health care services in Saskatchewan,” reads a news release.

“There has been a long history of negative, and sometimes tragic, interactions between First Nations people and health care providers or hospitals,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron.

Indigenous Services Canada is providing $1.17 million to the FSIN to support the work of the inaugural First Nations Health Ombudsperson’s Office in Saskatchewan. The ombudsperson’s team will be tasked with working with individuals and their families “to bring systemic concerns to the attention of federal and provincial health organizations for resolution.”

The office will also assist in providing options for overall system change improvements.

“The idea of an ombudsperson specifically for health in Saskatchewan I think is a good idea,” said Archibald.

However, she also pointed to work undertaken in Quebec and British Columbia.

Joyce’s Principle was initiated in November 2020 by the Council of the Atikamekw of Manawan and supported by the Council of the Atikamekw Nation “as a call to action and commitment to governments to facilitate the transition towards health and social services systems that are safer and free from discrimination for Indigenous people across Quebec and Canada,” according to the news release.

The principle is named for Joyce Echaquan, who died on Sept. 28, 2020 at a Joliette hospital in Quebec. She live-streamed the shocking way she was treated after she admitted herself with stomach pains. The 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven was racially insulted by some hospital staff shortly before she died.

Joyce’s Principle received $2 million in federal funding in February 2021 to work towards the goal of giving Indigenous people in Quebec fair and equal health care.

In BC, points out Archibald, there’s the report undertaken by Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond around the systemic racism in that province’s healthcare system.

Turpel-Lafond’s report, In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in BC Health Care, was delivered in November 2020. She had been appointed by the provincial government to conduct the review.

“The results are disturbing,” wrote Turpel-Lafond.  “A picture is presented of a BC health care system with widespread systemic racism against Indigenous peoples. This racism results in a range of negative impacts, harm, and even death.”

Turpel-Lafond pointed out that many in positions of authority knew of the racism and discrimination that was being practised.

The recommendations stressed “the need for immediate, principled and comprehensive efforts to eliminate prejudice and discrimination against Indigenous peoples. This is essential if we aspire to an accessible and effective health care system.”

A task team has been created by the BC government to address the 24 recommendations from the report. The creation of that task force was one of the 24 recommendations.  The 33 members were appointed by the Ministry of Health, in consultation with Indigenous health care partners. 

“Systemic racism requires systemic action to address it, including to address deficiencies in governance, leadership, education, policy, transparency, regulation, complaints processes and accountability,” wrote Turpel-Lafond.