On Friday, the Siksika Nation chief and council announced it unanimously passed a motion to begin collecting information about racist and discriminatory behaviour directed at Indigenous people seeking treatment at Alberta health care centres and hospitals.
“A steady flow of complaints have been made to chief and council in this area and leadership is working with a team of lawyers on this matter,” said Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot.
“We’re not here to attack the Alberta health-care system but we’re here to make sure our people are treated equitably.”
Sikskia council members said B.C.’s JFK Law Corporation has been hired to help collect information and to possibly pursue legal action in the future.
“We want our people to come into a safe environment and provide their accounts one-on-one,” Chief Crowfoot explained. “That way, when we have a collection of data, we can determine what our next steps will be.”
Councillor Samuel Crowfoot, who is also a Siksika Health Services chairperson, said he’s already heard from more than a dozen Siksika Nation members about discriminatory treatment they’ve received at area hospitals.
“Just down the road from here are two towns — Strathmore hospital and the Vulcan hospital — and many of our nation members choose not to go to the more local facility because of how they’re treated,” he said.
“Not only are we having those members of the community coming forward to myself,” the councillor said, “I’m also having medical professionals… telling me: ‘We’re seeing these things too.'”
CEO of Siksika Health Services, Tyler White, said one Siksika member has already come forward in a formal capacity with their concerns.
White is now hoping the provincial and federal government will conduct their own review, citing B.C.’s, In Plain Sight report released in 2020, and the creation of Saskatchewan’s First Nations Health Ombudsperson’s office last month.
“Those are things we can build on,” White said. “This is really a signal to both governments that we expect some followup and responses and we will have a number of measures at our disposal to address those issues.”
At a news conference in Calgary on Friday regarding school funding, Premier Jason Kenney said he discussed the issue of racism in health-care settings with Chief Crowfoot last week.
“We recognize the reality that many Indigenous people have long-faced elements of racism (while) accessing health services,” he said. “It is a priority for us to work with them to address those issues.”
Kenney also highlighted the Memorandum of Understanding signed last year by former Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the Siksika Nation that aims to improve health outcomes and services for Nation members.
“It’s partly because of those concerns that our government signed a protocol agreement with the Siksika Nation,” Kenney said. “In part, to specifically address the issue of racism in accessing health services.”
In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health Services (AHS) said it is striving to improve its system.
“Racism and discrimination have no place within Alberta Health Services,” said James Wood, the director of AHS media relations and issues management.
“We know many Indigenous people do not seek care for an illness or injury because they do not feel safe or welcome within the health system, or that they believe their cultural traditions will not be respected or understood.
“By creating meaningful relationships and listening to Indigenous communities, we are confident that we can create partnerships that improve the health and wellness of Indigenous people together.”
Wood pointed to a Siksika Nation flag-raising ceremony outside the Strathmore District Health Services in September.
“The flying of a Siksika Nation flag at a Calgary Zone health facility symbolizes our intention and commitment to work together for the benefit and healthcare of all people,” he said.
“If we’re to provide authentic patient- and family-centred care, the health system needs to adapt to and support the diverse populations it serves and not the other way around.”
Chief Crowfoot said no specific deadline had been determined for people who want to come forward to share their experiences and that all information would remain confidential.
“We have to give reassurance to our people that their stories are not going to fall on deaf ears.”