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Federal, provincial officials discuss ways to counter anti-Indigenous racism in health care


landscape photo of a stream with snow and trees the sun is peaking through
A report from Dr. Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond found evidence of widespread stereotyping, racism, and profiling of Indigenous Peoples in a review of the B.C. health care system. Turpel-Lafond says that the findings could be consistent across Canada.

On January 27-28, 2021, health ministers from federal, provincial, and territorial governments, along with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation representatives and medical health experts, met for a two-day virtual conference hosted by the Minister for Indigenous Services Canada. The group focused their discussions on anti-Indigenous racism in Canada’s health care system.

The two-day conference was a follow-up to an urgent meeting called by Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller in October 2020 concerning the death of Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother who died in a Quebec hospital after filming the treatment she encountered before her death. The October meeting focused on hearing stories about experiences of racism in the Canadian health care system, while the focus of the January meeting was on changing the treatment Indigenous people receive when seeking health care.

“In Plain Sight” report finds systemic racism in BC health care

A November 2020 report from Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond on the BC health care system found evidence of widespread stereotyping, racism, and profiling of Indigenous Peoples. Turpel-Lafond says that the findings could be consistent across Canada.

"Those are significant findings in British Columbia, but certainly the evidence would suggest that that may not be unique to British Columbia," Turpel-Lafond said.

While researching her report, Turpel-Lafond also found that COVID-19 and the opioid epidemic are disproportionately affecting Indigenous Peoples and that Indigenous health care workers and students are experiencing racism in their work and study environments.

Video: Healing in Pandemic Times

Indigenous Health, Northern Health and the National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health (NCCIH) recently launched a short animated video, Healing in Pandemic Times, addressing the issue of stigmatization experienced by Indigenous Peoples within and beyond the health care system.

The video is intended for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences, and defines key terms including stigma, stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination in an easily understandable way.

Dr. Margo Greenwood, VP Indigenous Health, referenced the In Plain Sight report in remarking that it is time to recognize and treat racism directed at Indigenous people as a health crisis. This new video is an important resource intended to support urgently needed dialogue and action at individual, system, and structural levels.

The video has been viewed by BC’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, who said, “COVID-19 has shown us that Indigenous communities continue to carry a disproportionate burden of stigma and discrimination in our health care system. We must continue to promote education and cultural sensitivity to address this ongoing challenge.”

In addition, a new resource from the NCCIH and Northern Health identifies several best practices for preventing and mitigating COVID-19 related stigma in Indigenous rural, remote, and Northern communities within Canada. The report, entitled There is no vaccine for stigma: A Rapid Evidence Review of stigma mitigation strategies during past outbreaks among Indigenous populations living in rural, remote and northern regions of Canada and what can be learned for COVID-19,” concludes that stigma disproportionately impacts Indigenous Peoples. It contains recommendations including centring Indigenous ways of knowing and experiences of stigma in developing mitigation strategies. Eight broad recommendations are discussed, including, but not limited to, developing context-specific, strengths-based and resilience-focused strategies; recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ sovereign rights; and developing partnered approaches to create culturally specific strategies to mitigate stigma.