Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) and the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) are working in partnership to eliminate anti-Indigenous racism in northern health care.
MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee and NRHA CEO Helga Bryant met March 22 in recognition of United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to begin discussions and formalize both organizations’ commitment to ridding the health care system in Northern Manitoba of anti-Indigenous racism.
“Ongoing racism in health care has become a pressing concern here in this pandemic and many Indigenous people have faced racism trying to access health care,” said Settee in an online press conference March 30, noting that COVID-19 precautions sometimes prevented Indigenous patients from having an advocate escort them to medical appointments, though he said the goal is a system in which the need for an advocate doesn’t exist. “I think our people deserve a better north than they have today.”
About 70 per cent of Northern Manitobans are Indigenous and the NRHA says it is committed to providing an environment in which Indigenous people have trust and feel that they are being heard.
“A lack of that kind of environment is a detriment to health outcomes and to relationships and we know that we need to do much better in that regard,” said Bryant.
Dr. Barry Lavallee, CEO of MKO’s health organization Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin (KIM), said anti-Indigenous racism in the health care system can and has led to deaths.
“When racism is embedded within the health care system, First Nations people in the north or Métis people perhaps can go to the health care system and not have their chest pain treated,” he said, adding that eliminating anti-Indigenous racism in health care improves the system for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. “There’s a benefit to addressing racism for all of us.”
NRHA chief Indigenous health officer Charlene Lafreniere said reading complaints about service from Indigenous people is difficult but necessary.
“It is so heavy but more importantly it’s motivation and urgency to step away from status quo and make some real changes,” she said.
Anyone with a complaint about their experiences in the health care system can call 1-888-340-6742 to talk about them, email their concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Box 340, Flin Flon, Manitoba, R8A 1N2.
“They get addressed, they get investigated and they also get noted for long-term strategy, what needs to happen,” said Lafreniere. “We need to hear your stories and we need to understand.”
KIM plans to develop an office this year designed to deal specifically with Indigenous people’s experiences with racism when seeking medical care.