Report highlights anti-Indigenous racism in Ottawa-area health care system

·3 min read
Ambulances wait outside a hospital in Ottawa earlier this month. A new report commissioned by the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health and members of the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition shares hundreds of stories of people experiencing anti-Indigenous racism while seeking health care. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Ambulances wait outside a hospital in Ottawa earlier this month. A new report commissioned by the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health and members of the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition shares hundreds of stories of people experiencing anti-Indigenous racism while seeking health care. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A new report details first-hand accounts of anti-Indigenous racism within health facilities in and around Ottawa.

The report titled Indigenous-Specific Racism & Discrimination in Health Care Across the Champlain Region emerged from the Share Your Story Project and was commissioned by Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health and Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition to uncover local stories of anti-Indigenous racism in health care across the Champlain health region, to find solutions and build confidence among Indigenous people in the health care system.

The Champlain health region encompasses the City of Ottawa and the counties of Prescott and Russell, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, North Grenville and four parts of North Lanark.

"Racism kills people especially in the hospital/health care setting," said Stephanie Mikki Adams, who is the executive director at the Inuuqatigiit Centre for Inuit Children, Youth and Families and is on the project's advisory committee.

"In our times of need, in our times of pain, in our times of suffering, we rely heavily on people to support and take care of us."

She said she has experienced stereotyping and discrimination in the region's health services.

In the fall of 2018, she moved to Ottawa from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. and began experiencing chest pains. On three occasions her husband took her to the hospital because she was in so much pain, believing she might be having a heart attack.

"I couldn't breathe, I couldn't talk, I couldn't move my arms," said Adams.

"When I went into emergency, they didn't believe I was in pain — they actually thought I was drunk."

She said the accounts in the report were not shocking to her and that they are a reflection of wider issues beyond health care, including education and police services.

In total 315 accounts were collected from more than 200 people between late 2018 and early 2019. Wabano's research interviewers rated 91 per cent as clear cases of anti-Indigenous racism based on criteria developed by the research team.

Robyn Miller/CBC
Robyn Miller/CBC

The highest percentage of accounts of racism, negative stereotypes and discrimination in hospitals were in emergency departments and maternity wards, and in the community were in health clinics and paramedic services.

"Indigenous-specific racism is embedded in Canada's colonial history, and only by taking responsibility can we achieve better health outcomes for Indigenous peoples in this country," said Wabano's executive director Allison Fisher in a May 25 news release.

"The provincial government must commit to change; to end racism; to provide competent and safe care, and to enforce this. We are part of the solution; we must be part of the solution."

27 recommendations

The report makes 27 recommendations across seven themes in areas like commitment to equity and collaboration, expectations, and accountability.

In addition to releasing the report, the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition and Wabano have issued a declaration, asking the leaders of each political party in Ontario to sign, and commit to effecting systemic change.

In an emailed response to CBC News, Ontario Health said it is taking the time to review the findings and recommendations in the report.

"Ontario Health is committed to addressing racism and discrimination and reducing inequities in the health system," the statement said.

"We value inclusion and diversity and recognize that our organizational culture needs to be equitable to contribute to better outcomes for the communities we serve."

In a statement to CBC News, The Ottawa Hospital said "We acknowledge that health care institutions have been part of a long cycle of systemic racism against Indigenous people.

"As part of planning our new campus, we are privileged to work with Indigenous partners. Their knowledge and wisdom are critical in guiding The Ottawa Hospital to improve the care and experience for Indigenous patients."

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