Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A visibly distraught Benedict Crow Chief joined Siksika Nation Chief Ouray Crowfoot and councillors Sam Crowfoot and Lou Ann Solway today to announce that a human rights complaint had been filed against Alberta Health Services and Strathmore District Health Services.
The complaint comes almost 18 months after Crow Chief’s wife Myra passed away after being transported to Strathmore Hospital for a medical emergency.
The complaint alleges that anti-Indigenous discrimination and racism at the southern Alberta hospital resulted in Myra not being treated for her medical condition when she arrived via ambulance in incredible pain.
“She doesn’t get to see her kids grow up or her grandkids. She should have been treated differently. She should still be alive,” said Crow Chief.
Myra, who had serious health conditions, including chronic kidney disease, was 49.
The complaint, filed Aug. 24, lays out how Myra Crow Chief was taken in the early morning hours to Strathmore Hospital April 17, 2022, despite Ben’s pleas that the paramedics drive the additional distance to Calgary.
In Siksika Nation, the Strathmore Hospital was accused of racist treatment of Indigenous patients.
In the Strathmore Hospital, Myra was ignored for hours, alleges the complaint, repeatedly refused medication and information.
When she was eventually transported to Calgary for a CT scan and then returned to Strathmore, she was not made aware of the results of the CT scan. That scan, unbeknownst to the Crow Chiefs, identified active abdominal bleeding.
Ben collected Myra that same day and brought her home. She was still in “considerable pain,” says the complaint. On April 19, he took her to Foothills Hospital in Calgary because she was still in pain. She was then diagnosed with active abdominal bleeding. She was admitted on April 20. She passed away April 21.
While Ben Crow Chief is the lead complainant for the human rights action, Chief Crowfoot said the band started collecting information in February 2022 of stories that the Strathmore Hospital was failing Siksika members through systemic anti-Indigenous discrimination.
“Common patterns” itemized in the human rights complaint include disproportionately long wait times; health concerns not being taken seriously; and patients and visitors being targeted by hospital security and peace officers.
“These common patterns and themes, in turn, have resulted in delayed treatment, missed diagnoses, and other poor treatment outcomes for Siksika members and other Indigenous patients at Strathmore Hospital,” reads the complaint.
Upon advice of Siksika legal counsel, the human rights complaint was filed.
“What we’re seeking here is not anything that any other Albertan, any other parent, any other brother, any other sister, any other father or mother wouldn’t be seeking. It’s equitable treatment,” said Chief Crowfoot.
“We’re looking for some real change and some real accountability within the Alberta health system.”
Among the changes Siksika is asking for at Strathmore Hospital includes recognizing the existence of systemic racism; creating dedicated Indigenous roles in health leadership and decision-making; committing to Indigenous leadership and hiring practices; and requiring personnel, including physicians, to participate in mandatory anti-racism, cultural humility and trauma-informed training. That training needs to be developed by First Nations.
Also being recommended is a complaint process at the hospital that creates dedicated Indigenous roles.
Crow Chief’s attempt to make use of the hospital’s internal patient complaint process was fraught with discrimination and his complaint was “dismissed…out of hand,” says the human rights filing.
Councillor Sam Crowfoot says that while they are speaking on behalf of Siksika members, he knows this type of anti-Indigenous racism in the healthcare system goes on throughout Alberta and Canada.
“(It’s) the same inhumane pattern of racist behaviour on part of healthcare officials toward Indigenous patients. And that behaviour has been expressed quite literally (as) being ignored to death,” he said.
Sam Crowfoot pointed to the death of Joyce Echaquan, the Atikamekw Nation mother of seven, who died three years ago on this date, Sept. 28.
Echaquan, 37, livestreamed the mistreatment she received from healthcare workers at Joliette hospital in Quebec, where she was taunted moments before she died.
The Quebec government’s response to what happened has been proposed legislation aimed at implementing cultural safety in the province’s healthcare system.
Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard is among the Indigenous leaders to speak out against the proposed legislation.
In an open letter earlier this month, Picard said one reason he would not be participating in a Parliamentary commission on the bill was that the definition of cultural safety had to be broader in order to make it possible to “analyze power imbalance, remedy all forms of discrimination, and address the persistent effects of colonialism on the long-standing inequities between the Quebec Population and that of the First Nations.”
Picard said there needed to be recognition of the systemic discrimination that existed not only in health care and social services, but in all services provided by the province.
The treatment of Echaquan is one of the fatalities cited by the project team for SAFE (Social Accountability as the Framework for Engagement) for Health Institutions in underscoring the impact of anti-Indigenous racism in Canada.
“Systemic racism is further amplified…where policymakers enshrine racism into the laws and policies that shape health care, social support resources, and the social determinants of health,” wrote the project team in a commentary printed in the September issue of Canadian Family Physician.
The project team calls for antiracism standards at all levels of the healthcare system, from family physicians to those who make healthcare policies and decisions.
“Antiracism standards of care would actively confront racism, support frontline bottom-up interventions rooted in education, and simultaneously focus on top-down strategic reforms that address systems of oppression,” said the team.
Tonight, the Office of Joyce’s Principle, the Lanaudière Native Friendship Centre, and the Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw are hosting a commemorative march for Echaquan in Joliette.
As for the Ben Crow Chief human rights complaint, Chief Crowfoot says Siksika is looking for more than “I’m sorry.”
“We want some real outcomes to come out of this,” he said.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.