The University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine formally apologized Friday for its role in past and present harms to Indigenous Peoples and committed to expand its response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
Dr. Dermot Kelleher, the faculty’s dean and vice-president of health, said the school recognizes that Indigenous-specific racism exists within the faculty and it apologizes for harmful attitudes and behaviours.
In the wide-ranging apology, he said the school regrets its role in educating and training anyone involved in colonial policy, and for excluding Indigenous people from admissions and in its hiring.
“We acknowledge the deep distress these actions have caused,” Kelleher said.
“We intend to collectively forge a new path that takes us beyond this past and present by never, ever, ever forgetting it.”
Kelleher made the apology during the faculty’s official launch of “Reckoning with the Truth, Working Together for a Better Future: The UBC Faculty of Medicine Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action.”
Although the school has made progress toward implementing the commission’s calls to action related to health and education, it had not yet issued a formal response. Kelleher said the years-long process has taken longer than expected and there is still progress to be made.
“We now view the response as a living document and we know that it will change over time as additional insights and contributions are gained that expand our understanding of the issues.”
Seven of the 94 calls to action in the commission’s 2015 report relate specifically to Indigenous health. They include calls to recognize the value of traditional Indigenous health systems, to increase the recruitment and retention of Indigenous health-care practitioners, and for cultural sensitivity training for health workers.
Kelleher said as part of its response, the school is expanding a program that brings students into rural and Indigenous communities. It is also expanding a cultural safety training program. The school has hired more Indigenous faculty members and created positions to advise it on how to do better, he said.
Access to health care is a basic human right, yet Indigenous Peoples do not have equitable access to it, which must be corrected, Kelleher said.
“We know there is a long road ahead and more needs to be done,” he added.
Several Indigenous leaders, elders and faculty members spoke at the event.
University chancellor Steven Point, a former lieutenant-governor, challenged other educational institutions to commit to implementing the commission’s calls to action.
“Let’s not repeat the same errors of the past but rather create a different future that’s inclusive, that’s fair, that acknowledges Indigenous contributions, that breeds a fair and level playing field,” Point said.
Musqueam elder Larry Grant thanked the school for the apology and said he was also encouraged that the faculty of pharmacy is assigning practicum students to remote areas of the province. It gives the students first-hand knowledge of the inadequacies of health programs and the quality of medicine available to Indigenous communities, he said.
University president Santa Ono apologized in 2018 to residential school survivors and Indigenous people for its role in the system that supported the operation of the schools.
A report released in November by former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond found widespread systemic racism in British Columbia’s health-care system. She said 84 per cent of the review’s Indigenous respondents reported some form of discrimination in health care and 52 per cent of Indigenous health-care workers said they experienced racial prejudice at work, mostly in the form of comments.