Racism in B.C. hospitals stop Indigenous people from seeking healthcare in pandemic, says Chief


In B.C. hospitals, the health of Indigenous people has seemingly become a game. It’s called “The Price is Right”, where staff guess the blood alcohol level of Indigenous patients.

“I’m angry. I’m frustrated,” said Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation.

“First Nations are not there for the amusement of health practitioners. We’re there to seek treatment, and we’re there to seek help.”

After the news broke that the dehumanizing ‘game’ may have been played at Saanich Peninsula Hospital, Chief Tom says other disturbing accounts of discrimination Indigenous people have faced in the B.C. healthcare system, have flooded in.

“We’re hearing stories of being sent home when they haven’t been treated. In one case they assumed a man, because he was indigenous, that he was drunk, but in fact, he had a stroke,” said Chief Tom.

After hearing an outpouring of experiences of racism within the B.C. healthcare system from his community, the Tsartlip First Nation Chief is concerned Indigenous people may suffer in silence.

“I’m worried that during a world pandemic, that my members will just opt to stay home and not go to receive the health care that they can get,” said Chief Tom.

And Saanich peninsula’s MLA says immediate change needs to happen to ensure all indigenous people have safe, unbiased, access to health care during this pandemic.

“I think what’s important is that we allow Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s investigation to work it’s way through,” said Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, referring to the investigation into the ‘game’ allegedly being placed in B.C hospitals.

“In the meantime, though we’ve got a very substantive localized situation that needs to be addressed so that indigenous people in my riding, and the Saanich Peninsula, can feel confident to get their emerging health issues dealt with.”

Currently, Island Health says it offers online voluntary indigenous cultural training to all staff, and enrollment is typically full each year. But the health authority says it’s ready to do more.

“We are actively engaging with our Indigenous partners on actions we can take immediately to reinforce that there is no place for anti-indigenous racism within Island Health. We know these actions need to be taken by us as a health system, not left to Indigenous leaders, patients and communities,” said Kathy MacNeil, Island Health CEO in a statement to CHEK News.

“We acknowledge we have a lot to learn and understand. We are committed to an Indigenous-led response to ensure our actions are meaningful.”

Neither Island Health nor the Ministry of Health has confirmed that Saanich Peninsula Hospital is the epicentre of the racist game.

Regardless, Island Health says they will be working with three First Nations on Vancouver Island on an immediate plan to fill in possible blind spots.

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Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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