A Hamilton children’s hospital has opened an Indigenous families room in memory of an 11-year-old First Nations girl who opted out of chemotherapy in favour of alternative healing methods to treat her cancer.
Hamilton Health Sciences said the space at the McMaster Children’s Hospital will be one where patients and families can learn about or participate in Indigenous culture.
The room is dedicated to the memory of Makayla Sault, a girl from the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, who died in January 2015. Her case sparked a national conversation on Aboriginal Peoples’ right to opt out of the health system.
“We are grateful to Makayla’s parents, Ken and Sonya Sault, and many other Indigenous community leaders who have provided guidance as we work to become a culturally aware, safe and welcoming place for Indigenous patients and their families,” the president of the McMaster Children’s Hospital said in a statement.
Makayla, who had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, was among two First Nations children in Ontario around the same time to refuse chemotherapy as the sole form of treatment for cancer at the hospital.
Her parents honoured her choice but child welfare authorities threatened to apprehend Makayla and her two siblings if she did not proceed with the treatment, the Two Row Times, a community publication that covers Indigenous issues, reported. Children’s Aid later announced it would not intervene in the family’s choice and apologized to the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations.
The First Nation later launched a lawsuit against the hospital, but the Sault family decided to work with the health-care institution instead, the Two Row Times said. The community publication said one of the terms of that settlement was that the hospital build a safe space for Indigenous patients to meet with healers and hold traditional ceremonies.
“Makayla was an intelligent, athletic and sensitive young girl and we miss her deeply,” her mother Sonya Sault said in a statement issued through the hospital.
“Our focus in creating this space has been to honour her life and educate others so that patients, families and health-care providers can work together to provide culturally sensitive care.”
The hospital said the room that opened Tuesday was funded by the 2016 sale of the Hamilton Health Sciences’ Inuit art collection, which was then donated by the purchaser to the Art Gallery of Hamilton for its permanent collection.
Stacey LaForme, chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, said he’s proud the room “memorializes our beautiful young warrior.”
“It is a beautiful room that will be a place of gathering of comfort,” he said. “Yet never let us forget the pain and tears that came before the beauty. Never let us forget Makayla.”