Sign of racism

The Beacon (Gander) - - Editorial -

The sign was posted in a doc­tor’s of­fice in Mi­ramichi, N.B. for all to see: “Attn: Na­tive pa­tients. Please don’t ask for tran­quil­iz­ers or pain med­i­ca­tions.” The rea­son for the note is ir­rel­e­vant. The mes­sage is abun­dantly clear. It was crush­ing for a First Na­tions can­cer pa­tient who went there look­ing for pain man­age­ment.

Was it racist? Yes. In­sen­si­tive? Yes. The symp­tom of a dis­turb­ing at­ti­tude to­wards in­dige­nous peo­ples? Ap­par­ently so.

The Eel Ground First Na­tion right­fully sought an apol­ogy be­cause the note la­belled the en­tire abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity as chronic pre­scrip­tion drug abusers. It marginal­ized one group of peo­ple, even though all cul­tures and com­mu­ni­ties are plagued with ad­dic­tions and opi­oid abuse.

The sign de­nied cer­tain med­i­ca­tions based on race. First Na­tions peo­ple are be­ing stig­ma­tized from seek­ing med­i­cal help.

And the note is a clear in­di­ca­tion that many Cana­di­ans have a long way to go be­fore the rec­om­men­da­tions and goals of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion are achieved.

It was ap­par­ently posted af­ter Health Canada sent a let­ter to the doc­tor ad­vis­ing cau­tion about a pro­gram that funds med­i­ca­tions for First Na­tions res­i­dents. But shouldn’t there be a need for cau­tion when pre­scrib­ing any po­ten­tially ad­dic­tive drug to any Cana­dian? Are physi­cians treat­ing some pa­tients dif­fer­ently than oth­ers? That’s clear dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The tim­ing of the story made the in­ci­dent even more out­ra­geous, less than a week be­fore Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Day, June 21, as in­dige­nous peo­ple across Canada cel­e­brated their cul­ture, achieve­ments and his­tory.

Our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of­ten stum­ble their way around in­dige­nous is­sues.

At a June 19 cer­e­mony in Ot­tawa hon­our­ing First Na­tions achiev­ers, Gov. Gen. David John­ston sug­gested that in­dige­nous peo­ple were im­mi­grants to Canada, say­ing, “We’re a coun­try based on im­mi­gra­tion, go­ing right back to our in­dige­nous peo­ple who were im­mi­grants as well, 10,000, 12,000 14,000 years ago.”

His re­marks sparked a firestorm of crit­i­cism be­cause the com­ment re­flected a deep-seated, colo­nial men­tal­ity. John­ston apol­o­gized soon af­ter.

There are, how­ever, pos­i­tive signs of change. On Wed­nes­day, a thorn in the side of many First Na­tions lead­ers was re­moved when Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said his of­fice build­ing would no longer bear the name of Hec­tor-Louis Langevin, a fa­ther of Con­fed­er­a­tion and an ar­chi­tect of the much-hated “In­dian” res­i­den­tial school sys­tem.

Trudeau was re­act­ing to con­cerns from many in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties and ac­knowl­edg­ing their deep pain about a build­ing that car­ries a name so closely as­so­ci­ated with the hor­rors of res­i­den­tial schools.

Trudeau also an­nounced that Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Day would now be re­ferred to as the more in­clu­sive Na­tional In­dige­nous Peo­ples Day.

And Nova Sco­tia is con­sid­er­ing a sug­ges­tion that it might be time for a Mi’kmaq seat in the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture.

These might be baby steps, but they are steps for­ward as we try to reach the goal of be­ing an in­clu­sive coun­try for all Cana­di­ans.

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