Indigenous leader says Vancouver Island hospital project turns fear to healing

·2 min read

NORTH COWICHAN, B.C. — A new hospital will become a place of healing for members of a British Columbia Indigenous nation after decades of fear associated with the current institution, a tribal leader said Thursday.

The planned 201-bed, $887 million hospital slated to replace the Cowichan District Hospital in Duncan will help erase long-held mistrust by Indigenous people in the area, said Albie Charlie, an elected Cowichan Tribes councillor.

"Our people will now call this hospital a place for healing, not a place of fear but a place of healing," Charlie said a news conference outlining details about the replacement project.

Cowichan Tribes members want to be part of efforts to rebuild a trust with the health care system, he said.

"Cowichan Tribes, not only Cowichan Tribes but First Nations, have had negative experiences with hospitals, institutions," Charlie said. "It has taken away our trust from these institutions. In the past we experienced racism and we had to come through the back door."

Earlier this year, Cowichan Tribes leaders said racist comments were directed at tribal members by some non-Indigenous residents after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared in their community.

It prompted Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller to call the comments "disgusting," saying Canadians do not support such behaviour.

Miller said he backed local leaders and residents who spoke up against the racism to support the Cowichan Tribes.

Health Minister Adrian Dix told the same news conference that racism in health care exists, citing a report last year that found systemic racism toward Indigenous Peoples in B.C.'s health system.

Dix said last November's report by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the former children's advocate in B.C., found some Indigenous people stay away from hospitals to avoid discriminatory treatment.

"Racism is negative to our health and it exists currently in health care and we have work to do in response to that report," said Dix.

Dix said the new hospital will be three times larger than the current Cowichan District Hospital in nearby Duncan and will be complete in 2026.

Construction is slated to start next year.

_ By Dirk Meissner in Victoria

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2021.

The Canadian Press