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Niagara Health: Signs part of commitment to Indigenous community

September 13, 2022

Toronto Star: Visitors to Niagara Health sites across the region will notice signage on the health system’s properties in St. Catharines, Welland and Niagara Falls meant to show support for the Indigenous community.

The signs include a variety of messaging that are geared to mark Niagara Health’s second Indigenous Inclusion Month. The first was marked in 2021. 

“The statements on our lawn signs were developed by our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee as part of their planning for Niagara Health’s second annual Indigenous Inclusion Month,” said Fiona Peacefull, vice president, human resources at Niagara Health. “The statements were developed in consultation with Indigenous community partners.”

Peacefull said the signs represent a commitment being made by Niagara Health “to learning about the experiences, rich traditions and teachings of Indigenous Peoples in Canada to support a safe, culturally welcoming space for everyone who enters the hospital.”

Jennifer Dockstader, executive director of the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre, considers the signs to be a step forward, albeit a small one. “It is small and hopefully not the only step,” Dockstader said. “If this is the only step, this will not prevent injury or death to Indigenous people.”

Dockstader was referring to the death of Heather Winterstein last December while waiting for care at Niagara Health’s St. Catharines site. Winterstein’s death resulted in a flurry of calls for an inquest from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups.

Niagara Health conducted an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Heather’s death. Results of that investigation were shared with her family. The centre also held a forum where members of the Indigenous community shared stories of their experiences with the health-care system in Niagara.

“Heather Winterstein’s death highlighted so many issues of discrimination in the Niagara Health System that have existed for decades in Niagara that this is one thing that they can do now to start in the journey of changes needed to become equitable toward Indigenous people in Niagara.”

Peacefull said that in addition to the signs, Niagara Health committee will host activities throughout September that are meant to “educate, inspire and spark conversations about Indigenous communities, cultures and histories.”

The month began with drum circles at all three hospitals on Sept. 1. An Indigenous artisan market is scheduled for Sept. 14 at the St. Catharines site. Niagara Health will also mark Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30 to remember victims of the residential school system.

It is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and it will also include various internal learning opportunities throughout the month for staff and physicians.