The mistreatment of First Nations people in Canada’s healthcare system is a long-standing issue that requires urgent attention. Leaders of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Inc. (MKO) and Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, Inc. (KIM) recently expressed their frustration with the Northern Health Region and the increasing incidents of mistreatment of First Nations people.
These incidents continue to occur despite the formalization of a new relationship between the three parties, where they signed the Declaration to Eliminate All Forms of Indigenous-Specific Racism on September 26, 2022. The latest series of incidents were brought to the attention of the Northern Health Region board and administrators by a delegation of Chiefs and KIM’s CEO, Dr Barry Lavallee, during a meeting requested by the MKO.
Dr Lavallee stated, “It is difficult to stay silent while observing our leaders being treated in a dismissive manner, while emotively sharing about health care related incidents – drawing from their own lives and the lives of the people they serve. They revealed the details with courage and equanimity, to draw attention to what needs to change in the northern health system. The response at first appeared supportive with platitudes about agreeing to work on the ‘relationship,’ however at one point there was laughter as one of our leaders revealed from the heart about the death of a family member. This is unacceptable behaviour and is really an example of racism exhibited at the highest level by a system lead, and unfortunately has done nothing but cause further damage to the ‘relationship.’”
These incidents are not new and highlight the need for better treatment of Canada’s industry people in the healthcare system. The mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in healthcare settings is not unique to Canada, but it is particularly pronounced in Canada’s remote and rural communities.
Healthcare providers in these areas are often overworked, under-resourced, and lack the cultural training required to meet Indigenous people’s health needs. As a result, Indigenous patients often receive substandard care, and their health outcomes are often worse than non-Indigenous patients.
Furthermore, Indigenous people are more likely to face systemic racism and discrimination in healthcare settings, which can result in mistrust and avoidance of healthcare services. This is particularly problematic in the case of chronic and life-threatening illnesses, where early detection and timely treatment are essential for positive health outcomes.
The mistreatment of Indigenous people in healthcare settings is not only a moral issue but also a legal and ethical one. The Canadian government has a fiduciary responsibility to provide Indigenous people with equitable access to healthcare services that meet their cultural and health needs.
To address these issues, it is essential that healthcare providers and policymakers work in partnership with Indigenous communities to develop policies and practices that are culturally safe and responsive to the unique health needs of Indigenous people.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) highlighted the need for better treatment of Indigenous peoples in healthcare settings and recommended a number of actions to address these issues. These include:
- Ensuring that Indigenous people have equitable access to healthcare services that are culturally safe and responsive to their unique health needs.
- Developing culturally competent healthcare providers with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to provide effective care to Indigenous people.
- Addressing the root causes of health inequities, including poverty, housing, and food insecurity, disproportionately affect Indigenous people.
- Supporting Indigenous-led healthcare initiatives that are community-driven and culturally responsive.
- Increasing Indigenous representation in healthcare leadership positions ensures that Indigenous perspectives are included in decision-making processes.
The Canadian and provincial governments have taken steps to address these issues, including adopting the Declaration to Eliminate All Forms of Indigenous-Specific Racism. However, more needs to be done to ensure that Indigenous people receive equitable access to healthcare services that are culturally safe and responsive to their unique health needs without facing discrimination.