Survey shows consistent pattern of discrimination, neglect, abuse of First Nation people in health care

·3 min read

A new report on experiences of systemic racism in Manitoba’s health care system was released based on findings from the Southern Chiefs’ Organization’s (SCO) Survey on Racism in Health Care.

The survey consisted of nine closed-ended and two open-ended questions and was shared online for six weeks in December 2020.

Three hundred and ninety-seven citizens from 34 First Nation communities participated in the survey, and results showed a consistent pattern of discrimination, neglect, and abuse.

“I am appalled by the findings in this report,” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels in a media release.

“While none of it is shocking to First Nation people, it is heartbreaking to read so many traumatic experiences that our people have had to endure at the hand of Manitoba’s health care system.”

Seventy-two per cent of respondents reported having instances of racism when accessing services and programs in the Manitoba health care system and approximately 80% reportedly witnessed a family member or loved one being discriminated against or was treated badly due to their race.

More than 65% of respondents highlighted that they received many negative comments from health care workers, ranging from verbal threats, insults, being shouted and scolded at or mocked.

One respondent noted in the survey that a health care worker told her, “to make sure I go on the pill because she didn’t want to see me back there,” after giving birth to her first child.

About 92% either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “racism is a problem in Manitoba’s health care system” while 65.5% of participants agreed or strongly agreed their health was impacted because of it.

A participant responded in the survey that they were actually surprised when they or their family members were treated well while seeking medical care.

“We have daily reminders throughout our lives of how differently we are treated, and it’s clear how much of an impact this is having on our health,” said Daniels.

“It’s even more prominent now with COVID-19 pandemic, which has laid bare for everyone to see how systemic racism has left First Nation people more vulnerable in terms of our health and physical wellbeing.”

In the new report, participants suggested that there should be mandatory education for all health care providers to learn about First Nations’ cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Respondents also recommended that more Indigenous health care providers should be hired to improve the systemic racism situation in Manitoba’s health care system.

Representatives from SCO have discussed this issue with the federal government in February to establish a new health care model where First Nation communities, leadership, and health care professionals have increased self-determination and self-governance over their health care.

“SCO recognizes the importance of incorporating First Nations values, worldview and wellness into health policies, programs, and services,” said Daniels.

“Currently, SCO is in the process of transforming health care for southern First Nations. We are taking control of our health to create culturally-appropriate health care with equitable access for Elders, youth, families, and our communities.”

The First Nation organization has also recently launched a similar survey on First Nations’ experiences of racism when dealing with police services across the province. The survey is currently open, with results being shared in the spring.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun