The inequality in how aboriginal people are treated in Canada’s healthcare system exposes a multi-faceted racial problem, one that for years has been pushed aside by the government and hidden from the public. A broken inaccessible system, with too few doctors and nurses, not enough preventative care, and racism impacting treatment, has turned into a vicious cycle that is harming those is aboriginal communities.
On average, Canada has 200-400 doctors working at a hospital with a nursing staff of 300. However, in places like Sandy Lake, a First Nations reserve holding over 3,000 people, there are only 9 semi trained nurses, and locals who have volunteered to help.“So you could have your janitor taking X-rays – when he’s available,” said John McKay, a councilor who was once in charge of medical administration at Sandy Lake. Tragically, the Meekis family experienced the impact this has had this first hand when their son Brody fell ill with strep throat. For the average Canadian, the process of getting rid of the illness would be: go to a walk in clinic, have throat swabs taken, be given the results in the next 24 hours, and then prescribed medication to kill the virus. Brody’s family had a much different experience. Brody’s father, Mr. Meekis called the nursing station to make an appointment for his son, they replied by stating that they didn’t have an opening for another week, and advised him to give his son Advil and lots of liquids. Mr. Meekis did what the nurses had told him, but Brody didn’t get better. A few days later Mr. Meekis called for an emergency transportation vehicle to come take his son to the nursing station –it took 1 hour to arrive. Days later Brody died, from a basic curable illness that over 20% of people get in the winter. If taken to a proper clinic, with certified doctors Brody would still be with us today.
In communities like Sandy Lake preventative care is non existent. Due to a range of compounding factors, including the traumatic legacy of the residential schools, big family sizes, and remote living conditions, many families experience food insecurity and depression. Most Canadians have fresh fruit and vegetables available to them in every grocery store, at reasonable prices. However, First Nation communities in Upper Ontario have spoke out about their inaccessibility to fresh produce, and how much of their daily diet consists of junk food due to the high cost of importing fresh produce to their location. Health Canada reports that this has contributed significantly to the fact that “First Nations on reserves have a rate of diabetes three to five times higher than that of other Canadians.” Furthermore, mental health is a prominent issues facing Aboriginal Communities. “Suicide rates among Inuit are shockingly high at six to 11 times the Canadian average. In Nunavut in particular, 27% of all deaths since 1999 have been suicides” states a ‘Here To Help’ article. In contrast, most schools across Canada are equipped with a school nurse, healthy lunch options and a counselor/ therapist.
Moreover, countless accusations have been made by Aboriginal patients stating that doctors, nurses and, therapist have treated them differently because of their race. Alcoholism, diabetes, drug addictions are examples of the stereotypes that many doctors appear to have about Aboriginal people that are influencing their diagnoses, leading some doctors to jump to wrong conclusions. A news article by CBS followed Ms. Labrecque, a First Nations woman living with severe stomach and hip pain. When visiting the hospital for the third time, a doctor wrote her a prescription for what she thought would be pain killers. She arrived home to only see a sketch of a beer bottle with a slash through it. Doctors do not have the same preconceptions about the health conditions of patients living outside of reserves, therefore certain doctors may be more diligent in assessing their condition.
Evidence shows that Aboriginal people are not given the quality of health care as other Canadians. Doctors, nurses and therapist have preconceived ideas of them due to their race and social standing. To make matters worse, privileged people are unaware of these issues because their communities are so remote. How can one call for solutions if they don’t even know there is a problem? As a starting point, this complicated topic needs to be more exposed to people not living in reserves in order to drive change.