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Infectious Disease in Healthcare System

There is an infectious disease running rampant in the healthcare system that is targeted at Indigenous people.  The disease is racism and prejudice.  

In June 2020, stories began to surface about a “Price is Right” game being played in some B.C. hospital Emergency Departments  in which health care workers were guessing blood alcohol levels of Indigenous patients.  These allegations were based on stereotypical assumptions that all Indigenous people were drunks.

There are more than 200 distinct First Nations in B.C., each with their own unique traditions and history. 

A Review Committee was established to address these claims and while the “Price is Right” allegations were unsubstantiated, the Committee listened to thousands of Indigenous voices through survey results and direct interviews concluding that the BC health care system has widespread systemic racism against Indigenous peoples.  The full report can be found here. 

According to the 2021 Canadian Census, there were 1.8 million Indigenous people in Canada, accounting for 5% of the total population.  Today, there are over 200,000 Indigenous people in British Columbia.  There are more than 200 distinct First Nations in B.C., each with their own unique traditions and history. 

I live at Xwchíyò:m, one of 24 distinct First Nation communities within the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Stól:ō people. The Xwchíyò:m have lived in S’ólh Téméxw for thousands of years.  For years, I have heard stories from Indigenous elders, young adults, and children about their experiences at the hospital, in the doctor’s office, and in the clinics—experiences of racism and prejudice.

Prejudice and racism against Indigenous peoples have roots in colonial beliefs that Indigenous peoples are weak, inferior, and less worthy of care.  These beliefs have shaped laws and policies in Canadian public services such as health, education, justice, and child welfare.

Addressing Indigenous-specific racism requires confronting the root of the problem and addressing the underlying causes of racism. To begin this challenging work , the province of British Columbia passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (Declaration Act) into law in November 2019 as the Province’s framework for reconciliation, as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

The Declaration Act aims to create a path forward that respects the human rights of Indigenous Peoples while introducing better transparency and predictability in the work we do together.

The Declaration Act Action Plan is an 89-point plan that includes goals, outcomes, and tangible actions needed for meaningful progress in reconciliation from 2022-2027.

To address widespread systemic racism within the Fraser Salish region, the Fraser Partnership Accord between Fraser Salish Regional Caucus, Fraser Health Authority, and Metis Nation British Columbia was first reached in 2011, amended in 2020 and renewed in 2023 to achieve full and meaningful partnership and true collaboration.

"This collaborative approach allows Indigenous voices to be part of that change.”  

There are 32 First Nations communities in the Fraser Salish region of various sizes, including small and isolated communities. The needs of the communities vary significantly, as does the capability of each community to engage with Fraser Health. The Accord specifies that no community should be forced into region-wide health strategies but that no community should be left behind.  

The vision of the Fraser Partnership Accord is to blend the best of two worlds in health: modern medicine and ancestral teachings and ways. 

The partnership is founded in traditional Indigenous teachings of respect, reciprocity, relevance, and responsibility. In this journey of developing the partnership, they have learned to listen to one another, to listen to learn, to ask questions to understand, to make decisions together, and to hold one another accountable for taking agreed upon plans, strategies, and initiatives.  

All parties of Fraser Partnership Accord are committed to eliminating anti-Indigenous racism, eliminating disparities and inequalities in the health status between Fraser Salish Indigenous peoples and other British Columbians. 

On February 1, 2024, the renewal of Fraser Partnership Accord was signed in a traditional longhouse ceremony at Shxwhá:y Village Cultural Centre.  The work was witnessed by First Nations Health Authority leaders and Indigenous community.   Grand Chief Willie Charlie states, “The accord is a step in the right direction to ensuring we don’t repeat the wrongs of the past and that we create a better future of care for everyone. This collaborative approach allows Indigenous voices to be part of that change.”  A video of the ceremony can be seen here.

The Fraser Partnership Accord embodies Stól:ō teaching of the Halq’eméylem words  Letse’mó:t and Letse’th’á:lé, meaning “walking together in a good way with a good heart.”

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