Canada must address anti-Indigenous racism within medicine

healthcare ed
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Protests broke out this summer when an Indigenous woman named Joyce Echaquan died in a Quebec hospital, shortly after live streaming on Facebook. In the video, she detailed racist verbal abuse she’d suffered and worried she’d been given too much morphine.
 
While the autopsy has yet to be released, the racism Echaquan faced in the hospital’s care is horrifying and unacceptable, regardless of whether or not it directly caused her death.
 
Racism within the medical field isn’t a new problem. Many Indigenous peoples don’t trust hospitals or doctors to properly care for them. While this is partly because of stories like Echaquan’s, where Indigenous peoples suffer maltreatment, it’s also because hospitals were created to be white settler spaces.
 
While Euro-western medicine takes a biomedical approach, Indigenous peoples have always relied on a traditional, more holistic, way of healing. To address the needs of Indigenous peoples properly, hospitals must be willing to listen to Indigenous peoples’ concerns and needs and broaden their understandings of medicine.
 
In addressing Echaquan’s death, the Premier of Quebec gave his condolences and acknowledged the history of Indigenous racism within the country, yet claimed that her death “doesn’t mean the Quebec nation is racist.”
 
The Canadian government can’t coddle white settlers’ feelings of discomfort when speaking about incidents like this one; it must instead push to have conversations about the prevalence of racism.
 
The only way to prevent other deaths like Echaquan’s is to tackle racism within medicine head-on. While the protests this past summer have helped bring issues of racism to the forefront, change won’t happen unless people in positions of power, like government officials, decide to not only address the issue, but act on it. 
 
The racist sentiments Echaquan faced aren’t a rare, random occurrence—they’re consequences of a system that was purposefully designed to cater to a specific group of people: white settlers. Canada can’t just review the hospital Echaquan died at; it needs to review medical institutions across the country.
 
The way we teach medicine should also be broadened. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to medical care; schools must recognize that and work to make Indigenous peoples and other minorities feel as safe as possible within health workers’ care.
 
Above all, Canada must be willing to listen to Indigenous communities about their needs and concerns. Instead of ignoring these voices or refusing to acknowledge systemic racism, Canada must allow these communities to guide reform going forward.
 
No patient should ever feel unsafe in the care of hospital workers. The fact that many Indigenous peoples do is a failure and a glaringly obvious form of systemic racism. The longer Canada drags its feet in addressing—and reforming—this issue, the more people will suffer.
 
—Journal Editorial Board

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