The federal government made a commitment in late January to ensure that Inuit, and other Indigenous peoples, “receive first-class medical care, without fear of discrimination and maltreatment.”
Nunavut member of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq says the lack of medical care available in Nunavut currently is proof that the Government of Canada doesn’t care about Inuit.
“Inuit and the North does not matter to the federal government as much as other communities, 100 per cent, otherwise we would see equal access,” Qaqqaq said. “That’s exactly what we saw from the beginning of the relationship between Inuit and the federal institution. It’s a lack of any kind of respect.
“First off, what they need to tackle is the lack of basic health care for Indigenous peoples,” Qaqqaq, a representative of the NDP, said of the Liberal government. “You need to provide the service first, and that’s when we can start talking about racism in health care.”
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson expressed similar thoughts about the provision of health services, or lack thereof.
“The complaints I’m getting about health care are about access to health care more than about discrimination… (it’s) the shortage of resources in notable areas like mental health,” said Patterson, a Conservative.
Qaqqaq said she heard numerous complaints about health care from Nunavummiut while on her 2020 housing tour in the territory. One of the instances that made a lasting impression on her was a young mother in the Kitikmeot region who handed her a letter. Qaqqaq read it in her hotel room that evening. The mother’s words of frustration and worry for her infant came after she said she was repeatedly turned away from the local health centre despite her baby having a build up of fluid in the lungs.
“I was like, ‘Wow,” said Qaqqaq. “She knew that there was something wrong. It took quite a while for her to get health care. There’s so many stories like that… (such as) my husband has cancer, where they could have caught it earlier and maybe he could have been diagnosed and now he can’t get treatment in his hometown. Maybe if my son was able to have resources and access to mental health (counselling), he might not have killed himself. There’s just so, so many stories.”
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) submitted a statement indicating that broader social conditions affect the health of Inuit in Nunavut, such as income, education, adequate housing, stress/trauma and food security. Inuit life expectancy is 10 years shorter than the average Canadian, according to Statistics Canada.
“Ultimately, the continued marginalization of Inuit affects our health and our health outcomes. When working on health issues the structural determinants need to be recognized also, the context of history of colonialism and the resultant continued marginalization,” NTI stated.
Among the actions that NTI is endorsing are a “concerted effort to close the social and economic gaps between Inuit and Canada and deal with systemic racism within the health system (including correctional facilities where so many indigenous people receive health care).” Nunavut Tunngavik is also calling upon the GN to carry out a commission on racism in the health system to review laws, policies and practices “that entrench racist systems, to review actions and experiences of staff, and the public, to find out the extent of the problem, to seek targeted redress.”
NTI also expressed support for the Canadian Public Health Association’s recommendations to adopt a formal statement condemning racism; undertake system-wide reviews of regulations, policies, processes and practices to identify and remove any racist systems and approaches; identify and remove racist laws, regulations, procedures and practices; provide mandatory, rigorous and system-wide anti-racism and anti-oppression training for all staff and volunteers within their organizations; enhance public health surveillance systems by collecting and analyzing race and ethnicity data in an appropriate and sensitive manner; and monitor organizations for stereotyping, discrimination, and racist actions and take corrective actions.
‘Failing Indigenous peoples’
In its January announcement, the federal government admitted that there’s “abundant evidence that the Canadian health-care systems are failing Indigenous peoples.”
“For far too long, Canada’s history of colonialism has driven racist practices, behaviours and policies against Indigenous Peoples. Systemic racism remains embedded in our country’s healthcare systems, with catastrophic effects for First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities,” reads a statement issued jointly by Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal. “Without significant change, Indigenous Peoples will continue to face harmful and persistent inequities in their health and social outcomes because of inadequate access to appropriate health services.”
The federal government noted that meetings on this topic have been held with Indigenous leaders across the country and the ministers promised further dialogue this spring pertaining to post-secondary health education, cultural humility training, Indigenous approaches to health, and patient navigation. A list of several planned reforms has been drafted to address the overarching issues.
Qaqqaq pointed to other government promises that have yet to come to fruition long after they were initially made, such as a national action plan on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and providing clean drinking water to all First Nations communities.
“We’ve seen historically things get announced and then the follow-through is usually a letdown or it’s something completely different, or it’s something that is never followed-up on,” Qaqqaq said.
Government of Canada’s steps to address racism in health care
-Launching an engagement process for the co-development of Indigenous health legislation to deliver high-quality health care for First Nations, Inuit and Métis. This work is supported by $15.6 million over two years from the Fall Economic Statement.
-Continuing the implementation of the recommendations from key reports. This includes the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Viens Commission report.
-Increasing access to care that is culturally safe and free from discrimination by providing $4 million to the National Consortium of Indigenous Medical Education. Their work will focus on improving the experiences of Indigenous Peoples in medical school admissions, education and medical practice in six priority areas, including better assessment of Indigenous studies, cultural safety and anti-racism during medical school admissions, the addition of anti-racism learning modules, improving Indigenous faculty recruitment and retention as well as increasing admissions of Indigenous students into medical school.
-Continuing work to implement the United Nations Declaration the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in Canada, including Article 24 which states that Indigenous Peoples “have the rights to their traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices, including the conservations of their vital medicinal plants, animals and minerals.” Indigenous individuals also have “the right to access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services” and that “Indigenous individuals have an equal right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”
-Increasing Indigenous representation in the health-care field by supporting Indigenous-led health organizations. This will allow development of new health governance models that will increase Indigenous control and responsibility over delivery and management of federally funded health services.
-Supporting national and regional health organizations for targeted measures and tools to address anti-racism, encourage cultural humility and promote trauma-informed practices.
-Supporting the National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health to create a one-stop shop for cultural safety and anti-racism tools and resources.
-Working with partners to support better progress measurements including indicators, data collection tools and regular public reporting.
Source: Government of Canada