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Siksika Nation Member Brings Human Rights Complaint in Response to Systemic Anti-Indigenous Discrimination in Alberta’s Healthcare Sector

September 28, 2023

NationTalk: Siksika Nation, AB – A Siksika Nation member has filed a human rights complaint against Alberta Health Services and Strathmore District Health Services in response to systemic, anti-Indigenous discrimination in the healthcare sector.

On August 24, 2023, the Alberta Human Rights Commission accepted a complaint filed by Benedict Crow Chief, whose wife, Myra, passed away in April 2022 after attending at the Strathmore Hospital. The complaint describes how Benedict and Myra were subject to anti-Indigenous discrimination and racism at Strathmore, including negative stereotypes about Indigenous patients.

Discrimination against Indigenous persons in the healthcare sector is becoming increasingly well documented and can be correlated with Indigenous experiences of poor health outcomes as compared to non-Indigenous people. Poor health outcomes are exacerbated where an Indigenous person is a member of other groups that are marginalized in the provision of health care services and medical treatment, such as women, trans people, and people living with (dis)abilities. See, for example, “First Nations emergency care in Alberta: descriptive results of a retrospective cohort study” (2021), “First Nations status and emergency department triage scores in Alberta: a retrospective cohort study” (2022), and “Prevalence and characteristics of anti-Indigenous bias among Albertan physicians: a cross-sectional survey and framework analysis” (2023).

The complaint underscores the widespread inequities that Indigenous people face within Alberta’s healthcare system, as they have for generations, most specifically in the area of emergency care. The complaint highlights systemic anti-Indigenous discrimination Siksika Nation members experience, including racist stereotyping about:

  • being “frequent flyers” who are presumed to misuse or overuse the healthcare system, especially for emergency and urgent care;
  • being drug-seeking;
  • being less “worthy” of care;
  • being “irresponsible” or unwilling to take responsibility for their healthcare or to follow through on aftercare instructions; and
  • how to express pain.

Since millennia before the establishment of provincial healthcare systems, Siksika Nation provided effective and culturally safe health services to its people and surrounding communities. Now interwoven with complex health inequities and imposing authorities since the signing of Treaty 7 146 years ago on September 22, 1877, Siksika, like other First Nations, is restricted from providing comprehensive healthcare services on its own due to resource and jurisdictional limitations. And yet, Siksika Nation continues to provide and advocate for equitable healthcare: from the 1924 Blackfoot Indian Hospital to the current Siksika Health Services, an Accreditation Canada-certified health services organization, Siksika Nation has become one of the most healthcare advanced and progressive First Nation communities in Canada. The Nation’s leaders, including Dr. Tyler White, Siksika Health Services’ CEO, advocate relentlessly for improved Indigenous health outcomes and against anti-Indigenous discrimination in healthcare; this work has been recognized through awards and appointments to numerous panels, councils, and networks, for example: Alberta Health’s Modernizing Alberta’s Primary Health Care System Indigenous Panel, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta’s Public Members Council, with whom Siksika Nation just signed an historic Memorandum of Understanding September 20, 2023.

Despite Siksika Nation’s persistent efforts, the discriminatory treatment of Indigenous peoples in Alberta’s hospitals and other health centres remains. Not only is discrimination in the provision of health care to Indigenous peoples a violation of basic human rights, but also a violation of the sacred obligations laid out in signed Treaties across Canada, like Treaty 7, which include commitments to Indigenous people in relation to healthcare and medicines. To remedy the systemic anti-Indigenous discrimination in Alberta’s health care system, the complaint calls for broad systemic changes in respect of hospital policy and procedure.

The complainant has suffered immeasurable and irreparable losses. He seeks justice for his family and fellow Siksika Nation members through structural change, not by way of a pay out. The complaint calls for broad systemic remedies, such as an equity audit to investigate the inequitable treatment of Indigenous peoples in Strathmore Hospital, and changes to hiring and retention practices and workplace anti-racism, cultural sensitivity, and trauma-informed trainings, among other remedies.

The complaint follows an information-gathering initiative launched by Siksika Nation Chief & Council in February 2022, which looked into reports of Siksika Nation members and other Indigenous persons suffering discriminatory, racist, and otherwise harmful treatment at Alberta hospitals and healthcare facilities.

“We want peace of mind, knowing the professionals within Alberta healthcare treat our loved ones with equitable dignity and respect as everyone else is treated.”

~ Ouray Crowfoot, Chief of Siksika Nation

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For information:
Jennifer Kohlhammer
Siksika Nation Communications
p. 403-734-5654