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Health (18-24)

Indigenous coalition urges Canada’s healthcare system to ‘Rise Above Racism’

June 5, 2023

NationTalk: themessage.

Who: A coalition of Indigenous health organizations (First Nations Health Managers Association, First Peoples Wellness Circle and Thunderbird Partnership Foundation); with NationTalk for strategy, creative and media (supported by Cleansheet Communications).

What: “Rise Above Racism,” a new government-funded awareness campaign highlighting the issue of anti-Indigenous racism within the Canadian healthcare system. This is the second campaign created by this coalition, which first came together on an awareness initiative called “Soar Above Stigma” that debuted during the pandemic.

When & Where: The campaign debuted late last month, and will run until March 2024 across TV (APTN, CBC and Corus properties), online, social, print and approximately 150 Indigenous and traditional radio stations. All of the ads drive to a dedicated website,

Why: The campaign grew out of the Government of Canada’s National Dialogues to address anti-Indigenous racism in Canada’s health systems in late 2020 and early 2021.

The flashpoint for the National Dialogues was the September 2020 death of Joyce Echaquan, who was subjected to racial abuse by staff at a hospital north of Montreal as she lay dying of pulmonary edema.

Sadly, the hospital’s poor treatment of Echaquan was not an isolated incident, with 78% of Indigenous Canadians saying they have experienced racism in healthcare, and 73% saying their experience had negatively affected their mental wellbeing. In addition, 76% of Indigenous peoples felt they would have received better service if they had hidden their Indigenous identity.

A second report documenting systemic racism in BC healthcare, “In Plain Sight,” found that 84% of Indigenous peoples described personal experiences of racism and discrimination that discouraged them from seeking necessary care and reduced access to care, negatively affecting their health.

These practices within the Canadian healthcare system negatively impact both the health and life expectancy of Canada’s Indigenous population, who live 10 years less than the average Canadian. “We’re devastated that we have do a public awareness campaign against racism [in healthcare], however we are here and we are doing it,” said Marion Crowe, CEO of the First Nations Health Managers Association.

How: Two of the three spots address key Indigenous healthcare issues: access to mental health and heart health, and how Indigenous people might not receive the urgent care they need. A third spot focuses on the controversial practice of birth alerts, in which hospitals and child-welfare agencies flag expectant parents as being unfit to care for their child on discharge. Many provinces only recently stopped the practice (which still exists in Quebec), which unfairly targeted Indigenous women.

Each of the three 30-second spots uses the same creative approach, opening on an x-ray of a part of the body requiring medical attention. The opening shot confirms that we’re all the same inside, but the camera slowly pulls back to reveal that the x-ray is being held by an Indigenous person as a voiceover explains the racism they endure at the hands of the healthcare system.

Each spot ends with the super “Treat the symptom. Stop the stereotype,” before urging people to become an ally for fair and equitable access to quality and culturally safe healthcare services for Indigenous peoples across Canada.

And we quote: “The messages are often hard to hear, but for the people who experience racism on a regular basis, it’s even harder to live through. We can all be allies to end racism in health care settings. I encourage all health professionals and employees in health care settings to learn and listen, to challenge harmful and dangerous attitudes and to make the changes in your workplaces at every level so that Indigenous Peoples can feel and be safe when accessing health services.” — Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services

Chris Powell