Op/Ed – Acknowledging the Report – In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care

Vancouver – Fraser Health Board Chair Jim Sinclair, Fraser Health president and CEO Dr. Victoria Lee and the Fraser Salish Regional Caucus issued the following joint statement in response to the report from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, “In Plain Sight Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Healthcare”:

On Friday, we speak together as leaders of the Fraser Health Authority and leaders from the Fraser Salish Regional Caucus. We work together in partnership through the Aboriginal Health Steering Committee. We stand together to respond to the report from the Honourable Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (Aki-Kwe) — In Plain Sight Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health care.

We fully accept the report’s findings that systemic racism is rife within our health care system. The result is that the health care provided by Fraser Health and other health care providers to Indigenous people is all too often inferior to the care provided to most British Columbians. This sad and deplorable fact results in thousands of Indigenous people not seeking the care they need at hospitals. Indigenous people are made to feel degraded when the B.C. health care system provides inadequate and flawed treatment because of widespread stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination.

We are thankful to Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and the almost 9,000 Indigenous peoples and health care workers whose courage to share their stories and experiences helped to shape this report and the call to action needed for change.

Standing together, we are committed to the eradication of racism, we feel hope in our hearts.  Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond gave us real and lasting solutions. We are committed to implementing all recommendations within our responsibility to lead, and further commit to partner with and support the Ministry of Health to implement all other recommendations.

We appreciate that Minister Dix accepted Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s first recommendation that the B.C. government should offer an apology. We appreciate that the health minister made the apology but more importantly, Minister Dix promised prompt action to help eradicate racism. As Fraser Health Authority leaders, we also offer all of you who have suffered in our system our apology for your treatment. We pledge our commitment to work with the caucus, your leaders and other Indigenous partners, including the First Nation’s Health Authority, to end racism in our health care system. It is not enough to offer words of regret. We must also take action to make it right with all of you, your families and communities. We will work in partnership with you to transform the health care system and help eradicate racism.

This will not be easy. Systematic racism has been a feature of our health care system from the beginning. We will learn to listen and work together with you to provide all Indigenous people with safe and quality care when accessing our health care facilities. We understand that health care providers will need to be provided with supports, resources and mentorship to help shift mindsets. We know that we must take steps to foster a ‘speak-up’ culture in health care environments.

We want all individuals to feel safe when raising concerns of racism. It is important that Indigenous patients and families are provided with access to Indigenous cultural supports to ensure they have safe health care experiences. This is not about blame and shame but of truth-telling and healing. This is about creating safety so that we can learn, grow and heal in order to transform our health care system. There is no place in our health care system for racism and discrimination. We will not tolerate racism; we will not be silent. 

On Monday, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond illuminated a bright spotlight on the darkness of racism in health care and the greatest failing of our system.  Now is the time to create momentum and provide all the resources necessary to accelerate real fundamental changes.

We have a long history in Fraser Health of working together. More recently we have embraced a new vision for our relationship, based on equality and joint ownership of the challenges of racism, cultural safety and the solutions. We both recognize that real change will take courage, vision and commitment. It will take all of us working together.

We have agreed that the Aboriginal Health Steering Committee will be the main table for all of our work to eliminate racism and ensure equality in accessing health care services for Indigenous people. Based on the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), we are moving forward.  We are also committed to expanding this table to include Métis representation and urban Indigenous partners. It is a big table with a huge mandate, and we embrace that.

In conclusion, together, we remain committed to real change, ending racism in our system, to ensuring every human being  in our region receives quality care delivered with respect to their culture and their medical needs. Anything less is unacceptable.

Sincerely,

Grand Chief Doug Kelly, Representative for the Stó:lō Tribal Council

Willie Charlie, Representative for the Independent Fraser Salish Communities

Derek Hansom, Representative for the Stó:lō Nation Chiefs Council

Dr. Victoria Lee, President and Chief Executive Officer, Fraser Health         

Jim Sinclair, Board Chair, Fraser Health

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