World Bulletin / News Desk
But Dr. Janet Smylie, who has been conducting research for 15 years into racism against Indigenous people in healthcare, said the problem is not confined to the north but exists for First Nations members across Canada.
And it is killing people.
“To me, the most important impacts are that people are dying unnecessarily or experiencing disability,” she said, adding that some healthcare professionals do not even realize they are being racist.
Smylie, who is Metis (a person of mixed First Nations and Euro-American ancestry), gave an example of implicit racism that is unconscious, or unintentional.
It occurs in higher smoking rates among Indigenous peoples because they do not receive public messages of the dangers of tobacco, as do other Canadians.
“I have a hypothesis, and I would love someone to disprove it,” Smylie told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
“The most important and dangerous kinds of racism that people encounter are actually racism that is hidden.”
Northwest Territories Health Minister Glen Abernathy agreed with Smylie, saying that during visits to different northern communities, he has been peppered with complaints about bias in the system.
“I share these concerns. I’ve heard them all,” Abernathy said.
“People come to me, we talk about these things, we try to find resolution to them, and we’re not there. But we’re on our way.”
An example of bias may have cost a patient his life in 2016.
An investigation into the death of an Indigenous elder that year found that the person died of a stroke after healthcare personnel thought he was drunk. A too-common stereotype in Canada is that Indigenous people are alcoholics – drunken Indians.
One of the 16 recommendations that came out of that investigation was cultural training for healthcare workers.
A high staff turnover rate in northern health centers is also a problem, and Abernathy said the solution to that is training Northwest Territories youth to go into healthcare.
“If we can get local people into these jobs in some of our smaller communities, I believe firmly that we’ll have stronger continuity, that we will have better interaction, and we’ll have more stability and trust within the system,” he said.