OTTAWA – Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has written to provincial and territorial ministers of health, asking that they the take the measures necessary to end discrimination faced by Indigenous people who seek medical treatment.
Ms. Whitman’s letter was sent in advance of an urgent meeting Friday, called by Ottawa, to address racism in healthcare.
Many Canadians are aware of the horrific facts of the final hours of Joyce Echaquan’s life in a hospital bed in Joliette, Que. But Joyce’s story was not exceptional. Indigenous patients regularly experience abusive treatment, negative stereotyping, substandard care, and an overall sense of feeling unwelcome within healthcare settings.
The federal government is responsible for funding Indigenous healthcare, but medical services provided to Indigenous people are often delivered in provincially run facilities.
In her letter, Ms. Whitman asked the provincial and territorial health ministers to demand that hospital administrators and others responsible for health services in their jurisdictions conduct the same sort of systemic reviews now being required of police forces across Canada. She asked that they take steps to end discriminatory health policies and procedures, and that they root out racist elements within their healthcare workforce.
“The racist treatment suffered by Joyce Echaquan and countless other First Nations, Métis and Inuit people is atrocious. But it can be stopped if we have the will to take collective and decisive action,” wrote Ms. Whitman. “I am asking you to stand with us and say ‘No More’.”
Ms. Whitman referred the health ministers to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that relate specifically to health. She offered the following measures that would greatly accelerate positive change:
- Acknowledge the problem and make an unwavering commitment to correct it.
- Hold racists, and the institutions that employ them, responsible and accountable for their behaviour.
- Ensure that any action taken in response to discriminatory treatment is tracked and publicly reported.
- Create Indigenous task forces to identify policies and practices in healthcare that have been shaped by discrimination.
- Hire Indigenous navigators in healthcare facilities to promote culturally safe practices and ensure that Indigenous patients are protected from racism.
- Train and recruit Indigenous staff at all levels in healthcare.
- Provide cultural training for healthcare professionals.
- Incorporate traditional Indigenous healing methods into Western models of healthcare.
Discriminatory practices in healthcare mean Indigenous people have significantly worse health outcomes that non-Indigenous people. Ms. Whitman says: “That is just plain wrong in a wealthy and progressive country like Canada.”