Balancing Indigenous claims of institutional discrimination

If we go beyond the increasingly shrill voices, we can find stories of compassion and equality

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We keep hearing about the negative ways that institutions treat Indigenous people. It’s a perception that needs to be challenged.

Think of what has been said during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, about the ’60s scoop, and at the trials into the killings of Tina Fontaine and the Colten Bushie.

One consistent message has been burned into the minds of Canadians, and in my province of Manitoba in particular: justice, child welfare, education and health care institutions don’t treat Indigenous people fairly. This means that non-Indigenous people working in these institutions are prejudiced, and when this virus infects whole organizations, unavoidably institutional discrimination results.

Hardly anyone has questioned this claim. As a result, the voices are becoming more shrill. Think of what Manitoba MLA Nahanni Fontaine and CBC Radio host Rosanna Deerchild have recently said. If we believe them, almost everything in our society is negative, almost every non-Indigenous person is prejudiced and discrimination is rampant.

Non-Indigenous people may not see this discrimination but Indigenous people experience it whenever they interact with people, especially in large bureaucracies, hospitals, schools, social welfare agencies and, of course, the courts. This is the narrative, but is it true? Is there anything positive to counteract the growing unfavourable image of a nation filled with prejudice and discrimination against Indigenous people?

Yes. Thousands of positive stories are, unfortunately, not being told. Here’s one.

On Thursday, March 22, my wife Edo, a 73-year-old Siksika (Blackfoot) woman, complained to me that she was having chest pain radiating down her arms, particularly down her left arm. She was sweating and her forehead was wet. She had taken a couple of ASA tablets, a commonly recommended precaution.

She phoned her physician’s office and the receptionist told her to get to Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital immediately.

Twenty minutes later, Edo and I arrived at the emergency entrance to the hospital. She walked, unassisted, into the waiting room while I parked the car. About 10 minutes later, I arrived looking for her. She wasn’t there. I was concerned but realized that she might be in the bathroom.

Nevertheless, I went to the triage nurse and asked if Edo had checked in.

Edo was being seen by an emergency physician, getting blood tests and a cardiogram at that very moment. There was no sitting around, no waiting with the other patients.

About 15 minutes later, she emerged into the waiting room and sat down. In two minutes, she was called to the triage desk and whisked away to the cardiac ward, where she was immediately prepped for surgery.

At 5:30 that evening, she was in the recovery unit after surgery to implant stents into a major heart artery and having angioplasty performed on other arteries.

The diagnosis? She was having a heart attack when she arrived at the hospital and St. Boniface, that patron saint of missionaries, had mounted a successful counterattack.

All the people in St. Boniface, from the volunteers to the surgeons to the nurses and aides, were extremely proficient, pleasant and empathetic. These people were supportive, treating Edo the same way they treated other patients with serious heart problems.

Edo didn’t experience any institutional discrimination or racism. All the people were extremely helpful and uplifting during the six days she was in St. Boniface. It was obvious that Edo is an Indigenous woman, yet she was treated with the greatest respect and given the same comfort offered to all patients with serious medical concerns.

Unfortunately, positive stories are rarely heard. Manitoba is truly friendly – people generally respond to others with respect, compassion and understanding. This even happens in large emergency departments where there are lots of sick people, with considerable noise, stress and confusion.

We should see this as uplifting. We should be thankful for an effective and efficient medical system, and particularly for the kind and generous people who help us when we need it, regardless of our race or ethnicity.

Rodney A. Clifton is the publications editor at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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