Balancing the Indigenous Claims of Institutional Discrimination

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Rodney Clifton

Manitobans keep hearing about the negative ways that institutions treat Indigenous people. Think of what has been said during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, the Sixties Scoop, the Tina Fontaine and the Colton Bushie murder trials.

One consistent message has been burned into the minds of Manitobans: justice, child welfare, education, and health care institutions do not treat Indians 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, so far, has questioned this claim. As a result, the voices are becoming more and more shrill. Think of what Nahanni Fontaine and Roseanna Deerchild have recently said. If we believe them, almost everything in Canadian 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 unfavorable image of Manitoba filled with prejudice and discrimination against Indigenous people?

Yes there is. Thousands of positive stories are, unfortunately, not being told. Here is one.

On Thursday, March 22, Edo, a 73-year old Siksika (Blackfoot) woman, complained to her husband 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 already taken a couple of ASA tablets, a commonly recommended precaution.

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

Twenty minutes later Edo and her husband arrived at the Emergency entrance to the hospital. She walked, unassisted, into the waiting room while her husband parked their car. About 10 minutes later he arrived looking for her. She was not there. He was concerned, but realized that she might be in the bathroom.

Nevertheless, he went to the triage nurse and asked if Edo had checked in. The answer was “yes.”

“But where was she?”

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 fifteen 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 on the 5th floor 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 to both Edo and her husband. These people were supportive, treating her the same way they treated other patients with serious heart problems.

Edo did not experience any institutional discrimination or racism. All the people were extremely helpful and uplifting during the 6 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 comfort that was offered to all patients with serious medical concerns.

Unfortunately, positive stories are rarely heard by Manitobans. Our province is truly friendly where 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.