Siksika Nation member, Benedict Crow Chief, has filed a human rights complaint against Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Strathmore District Health Services in response to anti-Indigenous discrimination in the healthcare sector. 

The Alberta Human Rights Commission accepted the complaint, Aug. 24. 

Crow Chief described in his complaint how he and his late wife Myra were subject to anti-Indigenous discrimination and racism at Strathmore, which lead to Myra Crow Chief’s preventable death in April 2022. 

On Sept. 28, a panel consisting of Crow Chief, Lou Ann Solway and Sam Crowfoot, councillors for Siksika Nation, as well as Ouray Crowfoot, chief of Siksika Nation, announced the complaint against AHS. 

“What we’re trying to do here is highlight a widespread system failure by the Strathmore Hospital and the larger AHS system in violating our human rights while we receive health care,” said Sam Crowfoot. “Our health care system is failing Indigenous people, and that racism toward Indigenous people still exists and even thrives in what are supposed to be our safe spaces.”

Sam Crowfoot iterated the circumstances which lead to Myra Crow Chief’s death. It is reported that she was ignored for seven hours at Strathmore hospital before being turned away without medication to ease her pain.

She was also described to have been ignored to the point of calling her husband to bring her water while she was awaiting help from doctors. 

“She bled to death over a series of days and was ignored and lied to by the very people who were supposed to care for her, who were supposed to heal her, and they didn’t,” said Sam Crowfoot, referring to the active internal abdominal bleeding which was determined to be her cause of death.

“As if the pain and agony of losing (his) wife from very preventable circumstances was not enough, adding insult to injury, (Myra’s) surviving husband, Ben, endured an overly cumbersome, slow, and ineffective complaint process set up by Alberta Health Services.”

It would be over eight months following Myra Crow Chief’s death before Ben Crow Chief would receive a brief and “curt” response from AHS, finding that no misconduct had been perpetrated in his case.

The complaint against AHS describes Strathmore Hospital as being notorious within the Siksika community as a locus of systematic, anti-Indigenous discrimination. Many Siksika members are reluctant to visit the hospital, notwithstanding its proximity to the reserve.

Many members choose to travel the additional distance to Calgary, even in circumstances of acute medical need, rather than risk receiving discriminatory treatment at Strathmore. 

“When our people are in need or in pain or are under some kind of ailment and they go to the hospital, they shouldn’t have to worry about if they’re going to be sent home or dismissed or overlooked or simply wheeled out in the hospital to pass away in the hallway,” said Ouray Crowfoot.

“What we’re looking for here is equitable treatment and to hold the Alberta Health Services accountable for the inequitable treatment that our people have been receiving.”

Ouray Crowfoot added the complaint calls for board systemic remedies such as an equity audit to investigate the inequitable treatment of Indigenous people in Strathmore Hospital, as well as changes to hiring and retention practices and workplace anti-racism, cultural sensitivity, and trauma-informed training, among other remedies.

Sam Crowfoot added the complaint also calls for a formal acknowledgement from AHS that they understand and recognize and appreciate the threat that racism has to their system, to the people they are supposed to serve.

“We are asking hospital personnel and physicians to participate in mandatory anti-racism training, cultural humility, and trauma-informed practices being more developed in cooperation with First Nations in their governing bodies and respective organizations,” he said.

“We have the Indigenous knowledge; we have the competency to help change the system. We want to be engaged in that. And if and when and where the system is not able to do that, we want our own facilities on Siksika where we can build off of our current health system.”

The systematic discrimination experienced by Siksika members, as described in the submitted complaint, ranges from incidents of overt racism and stereotyping – with respect to substance abuse in particular, to the failure of hospital personnel to accommodate the particular needs and circumstances of Indigenous persons.

This complaint follows the culmination of reportedly thousands of complaints from Nation members to chief and council during an information-gathering initiative launched in February 2022, which looked into reports of Siksika Nation members and other Indigenous persons suffering discriminatory, racist, and otherwise harmful treatment at Alberta hospitals and healthcare facilities.

“Clearly, my late wife’s condition was urgent. Her death was preventable. Why are our hospitals taking in patients when they’re just going to discharge us without proper care and attention?” asked Ben Crow Chief. “Would we be treated differently if we were not Indigenous? I feel the answer is yes. I feel she would still be alive and her concerns would have been taken seriously.”

By John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Oct 04, 2023 at 13:07

This item reprinted with permission from   Strathmore Times   Strathmore, Alberta

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