Alberta Health Services came under fire Tuesday from some Indigenous leaders in the Calgary area.
Leaders of the Siksika Nation spoke of concerns about racism at a historic gathering outside the hospital in Strathmore, Alta.
“It’s the first ceremony of its kind in the province of Alberta,” Siksika Health Services CEO Tyler White said.
The ceremony featured the raising of the Siksika Nation flag outside the hospital.
“The flag, that’s our ancestors looking over our people who enter this building,” Siksika Coun. Reuben Breaker said.
It’s a building in which Siksika leaders say some members of their nation didn’t get the treatment they deserved.
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“We know there were issues of discrimination and racism,” White said. “So this is a message: no more, no more are we going to tolerate this. We need to call it out for what it is.”
Siksika leaders say they’ve got concerns going back several years at the hospital in Strathmore.
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“Some of the people that come through these doors, they’re afraid to come through the doors,” Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot said.
“They would much rather stay home because they’re going to be either treated bad or looked at as, ‘Oh, he doesn’t really need drugs or she doesn’t really need drugs. They’re an addict, just in here faking an illness to get opioids.'”
An Alberta Health Services official at the ceremony said the raising of the Siksika flag at the hospital is a “really important step forward in the ongoing reconciliation with First Nations people.”
“We are working to ensure that the care provided at all AHS facilities makes all people feel respected and empowered,” AHS Calgary zone senior operating officer Nicholas Thain said. “AHS is absolutely committed to that.”
Siksika leaders added that raising their flag to its new permanent spot at the hospital is just a start.
“We need to follow up with cultural training for staff,” Breaker explained.
Breaker said it’s important to make policy changes to ensure AHS officials take action against discrimination.
“The flag itself is not going to solve racism, but it’s a symbolic gesture,” Crowfoot added.
“When the doctors come in, when the nurses come in, when the patients come in and they see that Siksika flag flying, they’re going to be reminded that we are the first people in this area. We should not be treated like second-class citizens.”