By John Watson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Siksika Nation Chief and Council are taking actions to address systemic racism against First Nations peoples in Alberta healthcare facilities.
Chief Ouray Crowfoot said during a press conference on March 4 that Chief and Council had unanimously passed a motion to authorize the JFK Law Corporation to conduct information-gathering interviews with Siksika Nation members.
“A steady flow of complaints has been made to Chief and Council in this area and leadership is working with a team of lawyers on this matter,” said Crowfoot. “For too long we have been subjected to racism (and) discriminatory behavior while receiving health care.
For too long we have been insulted when we were at our most vulnerable by people seeking to take advantage of us.”
According to a press release, the interviews may be used to assist in potential litigation for the protection of Siksika Nation members and their families while receiving healthcare.
A notice distributed to Siksika Nation members was written to inform them of the information-gathering sessions and that anyone who has been discriminated against, or has been treated negatively based on race, ethnicity, or status as a Siksika Nation member, or has witnessed a racist or discriminatory incident at an Alberta healthcare facility, is invited to come forward.
Any indigenous people who wish to reach out to Siksika Chief and Council regarding their stories of discrimination within the healthcare system, will be treated with absolute confidentiality for the respect and safety of the individual who decides to share.
“There are there’s a lot of great work that’s going on in the Alberta healthcare system. We’re not here to attack the Alberta healthcare system but we’re here to make sure our people are treated equitably in the healthcare system,” said Crowfoot. “We can no longer be the ostrich and put our head in the sand and hope when we get it back up, everything’s going be good. If you want to make tough change, real change, you have to have the real data.”
During the press conference, Councillor Samuel Crowfoot said it is important that people’s stories are heard, are listened to and believed.
“Racism isn’t new. It’s only now that it is with the prevalence of cell phones and digital cameras (that it is) finally being recorded,” said Crowfoot. “The complaint process in general Alberta, for any type of medical issue, or any type of racist or derogatory event, is extremely hard to follow and is governed not in the most efficient way. Thereby, I think it reduces the amount of complaints that come in because of the process.”
Siksika Health Services CEO Tyler White added he is disappointed these types of measures are necessary in order to get the attention of the provincial and federal governments.
“I’m reflecting with sadness. I’m also reflecting with hope that today, as I said, is a day of action to be able to address those long-standing issues of racism and discrimination,” said White.
“I’m also reflecting on the experiences of our people. And these aren’t just stories, these are real experiences that our people have experienced in the hospitals in the emergency departments.”
According to White, on the same day the service was available for Nation members to come forward with stories, people began to make use of the service.
Information will be available through the Siksika Chief and Council website about how to reach out and for Nation members to share their experiences.
John Watson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the STRATHMORE TIMES. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.