Indigenous woman's experience at Val-d'Or hospital recognized as discrimination by Quebec inquiry

Indigenous woman's experience at Val-d'Or hospital recognized as discrimination by Quebec inquiry

For the first time, Quebec's inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous people has recognized a case of discrimination.

Retired Superior Court justice Jacques Viens, who is presiding over the provincial probe, told a woman from the far-northern village of Whapmagoostui she was right to complain about the way nurses treated her at the Val-d'Or hospital last year.

Natasia Mukash, 39, told the inquiry that, in May 2016, she was taken to hospital 10 days after a miscarriage because she was still bleeding.

"I knew it was a loss, but I didn't think I'd have to ever experience somebody being angry with me for experiencing loss," said Mukash, holding back tears.

'She's from the north'

At the hospital, she said nurses talked about her and mocked her in French, not knowing she understood them.

Mukash heard the nurses say, "she's from the north," then laugh. She was directed to a bathroom where there was vomit, and no one gave her any food until 7 a.m.

Around midnight, one told her she should leave in a taxi and stay at a hotel without seeing a doctor.

She was eventually taken up to a room and hooked up to an IV, and a nurse told her there had been a "misunderstanding."

Mukash said she even apologized for refusing to leave the hospital because she wanted the mistreatment to end.

Questioned her identity

In the months that followed, she became depressed and questioned her Indigenous identity, even blaming herself for the way she was treated at the Val-d'Or hospital in May 2016.

"At one point, I questioned how I look, or my name. I didn't feel comfortable with myself," said Mukash.

Her complaint to the hospital was lost, and she never received a response.

"This made me question my experience. Is it bad? Or it's not bad enough?" said Mukash.

Investigators with the inquiry verified Mukash's account of the mistreatment before she testified.

Mukash is the first person whose experience falls under the inquiry's 15-year mandate to look at "relationship between Indigenous people and some public services" and to identify "underlying causes of … systemic discrimination."

At the end of her testimony, Viens thanked Mukash and reassured her what she went through was worth a complaint.

"If you feel it was bad enough, I have the same feeling," said Viens.

The inquiry was struck at the end of 2016 following complaints from Indigenous women of mistreatment by Sûreté du Québec officers. It started calling witnesses in June.