Indigenous History Month is a time to acknowledge and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ culture, knowledge, contributions, and ways of being, to remember Indigenous people are still here, not just in history books. It is also a time for Canadians to reflect on the history and ongoing colonization and racism that this country is built on. With the recent discovery of a mass grave of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops residential “school” our colonial history is even more present in our minds and hearts.
This month, and every other day of the year, it is crucial for all Canadians to understand that the colonial beliefs and policies that led to the mistreatment, abuse, experimentation, and deaths of children at residential schools is not in the past. We continue to see this reflected in child protective services, in overrepresentation in the criminal justice system and in the health care system. Indigenous people experience poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous people in Canada.1 We have multiple reports that point to the racism in the health care system in Canada, and we at Sunnybrook are not exempt.
As members of the health care system, we need to acknowledge the roles that we play in perpetuating systems of anti-Indigenous racism. Anti-Indigenous racism takes many forms from systemic all the way down to the individual. It is not always easy for non-Indigenous people to see it and often may not realize how they are perpetuating and even benefiting from it. However, the events of the past year – the death of Joyce Echaquan, the overburden of the effects of the pandemic, and the release of the In Plain Sight Report – have forced some in this country to pay attention. We must all pay closer attention. Addressing racism, naming it, and recognizing your place in it are not easy, but this must be done if we hope to address it. This must be done if we hope to improve health outcomes for Indigenous communities.
The need for more Indigenous health care providers in this country is paramount. Cultural safety training and initiatives are an important step, but they are not enough. Supporting the growth of Indigenous doctors, nurses, midwives, and other health care professionals is a necessary step in improving our health care system. Small change is no longer acceptable, asking Indigenous people to change to fit in the system is no longer acceptable; we need systemic changes that centre Indigenous people and meet their health needs. We see these changes happening around us in the work of the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association, the Indigenous Physician’s Association of Canada, and in community at a grass-roots level. What will you do this Indigenous History Month to contribute to this change?
 Allan, B., and Smylie, J. (2015). First Peoples, Second Class Treatment: The Role of Racism in the Health and Well-being of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Toronto: The Wellesley Institute. Available from: http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Full-Report-FPSCT-Updated.pdf.