Shawanaga Chief Wayne Pamajewon says racism must end in health care. Bella Pamajewon photo
By John McFadden, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Parry Sound North Star
The Chiefs of the Shawanaga and Wasauksing First Nations both agree that more has to be done to combat anti-Indigenous racism in the Canadian health-care system.
Shawanaga Chief Wayne Pamajewon and Wasauksing Chief Warren Tabobondung made their comments earlier this month after the federal government announced it was taking steps to fight against anti-Indigenous discrimination in health care.
As part of the announcement, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller stated the federal government is working on new legislation that would also include provisions to allow Indigenous communities to have more control over how their health care is delivered to them.
The measures come after years of horror stories about Aboriginal health care, including a particularly disturbing incident last year. Video was released in the fall that was taken by an Indigenous woman who was insulted by health-care workers as she lay dying and pleading for help from her hospital bed. Two female health-care workers can be heard in the video calling the woman stupid and telling her she’d be better off dead.
The Indigenous woman later died and her family says they believe systemic racism played a role in her death.
Chief Pamajewon said there is an inherent lack of trust between Indigenous people and health-care providers. He cited the reluctance of some Indigenous people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine first, if at all. The chief said that some Indigenous people balked at being first in line to get the shot, worried that the government was using them as test subjects to see if the vaccine was safe.
Chief Pamajewon said that the promises made and broken by governments on housing, sanitation and clean water have contributed to Indigenous people not being as healthy on average as other persons in Canada.
“I grew up in a tarpaper shack and I’m still here. Maybe I’m just one of the lucky ones. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of sickness in our community and it’s all because of services that were not provided to the First Nations,” the chief said. “I don’t know what the hell it is with them.
“Indian health needs to be revamped in so many ways. We are people, too, and we have rights just like everybody else. I think there has to be a rethink and governments have to start to look at the big picture. This is nothing new. I’ve had chiefs across the country tell me for years that the government is negligent in providing health care to us.”
Chief Pamajewon is adamant that one issue the government need to address is that Indigenous people still have to pay for many of their prescriptions.
“There are a lot of medications that aren’t covered by the government, and I don’t believe we should have to pay for a lot of those (medications). It’s covered by treaty. We’ve already paid for that stuff.”
Chief Tabobondung, who was up for re-election in Wasauksing on Feb. 9, said that the treatment of Indigenous people in the health-care system is part of the institutional anti-Indigenous racism that his people have to deal with on a regular basis.
“First Nations have not been included and often we are not even part of how a lot of things are administered,” the chief said. “For instance, during COVID, (Indigenous) nursing stations had to be shut down in our Ojibwe communities because of a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). We had ordered the PPEs months in advance. It was really a desperate situation. Some of our communities were trading wild game for PPEs. It was very discouraging for me.”
The federal government, which is already in meetings with Indigenous leaders and health-care experts, is reportedly committed to spending $15.6 million to fight anti-Indigenous racism in the health-care system.
John McFadden is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Indigenous issues for MuskokaRegion.com, ParrySound.com and Simcoe.com. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.