‘We are truly sorry’: Leaders, health officials acknowledge Indigenous-specific racism in northern Manitoba’s health-care system

Indigenous leaders and northern health officials in Manitoba say Indigenous people continue to face racism in the health-care system, and have signed a declaration committing to eliminate it.

On Monday morning leaders from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin (KIM), and the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA), met in Thompson to sign the declaration.

“Let me begin by acknowledging Indigenous-specific racism has existed and continues to be present within the Northern Health Region. On behalf of our staff, I offer a humble heartfelt apology. We are truly sorry for the harm this has caused,” said Helga Bryant, the CEO of the NRHA.

“We know we all have much to learn, and in many cases to unlearn, as we embark on this journey together.”

The declaration says the three groups acknowledge racism against Indigenous peoples in Canada exists and stems from colonization, and says this leads to a loss of trust in health systems, reduced use of services, and ultimately to poorer health outcomes for Indigenous people.

It is something Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief David Monias said he has seen within his community.

“Our people are dying from things that can be prevented,” he said, adding in his first term as chief, there were 55 deaths in his community – two by suicide, four by natural causes, and the rest he said died from lack of health services.

“That’s got to stop – it has to.” He said. “We can’t live like that. Racism has to end.”

Bernice Thorassie is a client navigator with MKO and helps people access proper health-care. She said in the last year she had received 1,400 calls as of June.

She shared stories of patients who came to MKO for advocacy, narrowly avoiding unnecessary amputations, or ensuring proper care is being given to their newborn babies.

She called on those working in health-care roles to learn more about the Indigenous people.

“When people learn more about who we are and the extreme challenges we have lived through, you will better understand and empathize with us,” she said. “We can work together to end racism and build a safe health-care system for our children and our grandchildren.”

Manitoba’s Health Minister Audrey Gordon, who was among the officials at the signing Monday morning, said she believes the things learned in the Northern health region can be applied across the province.

“Today is not the end, there is much more work to do. We will continue to work with each other,” she said. “We want to listen and learn from Indigenous leadership in communities to acknowledge that racism exists, it does, and that changes are needed to bring about reform in our provincial health-care systems.”

As a part of the declaration, the three groups have committed to identifying and eliminating Indigenous-specific racism and will be conducting bi-annual reviews to ensure progress and accountability within the Northern Regional Health Authority.

Dr. Barry Lavallee, from KIM, said the first report is expected in six months.

“The experiences of people coming into the health-care system need to be monitored as kind of a first line,” he said. “We are going to be looking at processes including developing databases that describe Indigenous patients versus non-Indigenous patients.”

He said an example of this would be monitoring whether an Indigenous child with severe asthma is offered steroids or not, compared to a non-Indigenous child.

You can read the full declaration here:

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