HHS bridg­ing gap with In­dige­nous fam­i­lies

New room at hospi­tal ded­i­cated in mem­ory of Makayla Sault

The Niagara Falls Review - - Canada & World - JOANNA FRKETICH The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

An In­dige­nous fam­i­lies room at McMaster Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal in mem­ory of Makayla Sault is the start of a jour­ney to bridge a yawn­ing gap be­tween tra­di­tional heal­ing and Western medicine made painfully clear when the 11-year-old New Credit girl quit chemo­ther­apy and later died.

“It’s im­por­tant that there is a way to re­mem­ber what it cost us all to be­gin this jour­ney,” said Chief Stacey Laforme of the Mis­sis­saugas of the New Credit First Na­tion.

Makayla was di­ag­nosed in Jan­uary 2014 with acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia. Her par­ents say their re­quest to use tra­di­tional medicine along­side chemo­ther­apy was re­fused and de­scribed en­dur­ing racism be­fore Makayla aban­doned Western treat­ment. She died Jan. 19, 2015.

“We would walk the halls of that hospi­tal count­less times and never did we see one rep­re­sen­ta­tion of First Na­tions peo­ple any­where,” her mother, Sonya Sault, said in a speech nearly one year af­ter her death.

At that time, she vowed to fight for change, in­clud­ing a room for In­dige­nous fam­i­lies. But it took a law­suit by New Credit for the two sides to come to­gether.

“It wasn’t that easy of a meet­ing as you can imag­ine,” said Laforme. “There is such a lack of knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing when it came to in­ter­act­ing with In­dige­nous peo­ple, about our cul­tural ways and prac­tices and also about our medicine.”

But by the end of the meet­ing, the Saults were con­vinced they could achieve rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Hamil­ton Health Sciences (HHS) and the law­suit was dropped.

“There is a long way to go, but at least the jour­ney has be­gun,” he said. “We signed an agree­ment that we’d work to­gether and build a re­la­tion­ship, work­ing to­ward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

It’s a far cry from the fall of

2014 when HHS be­came the first hospi­tal in Canada to take a chil­dren’s aid so­ci­ety to court af­ter Brant Fam­ily and Chil­dren’s Ser­vices re­fused to in­ter­vene when a sec­ond In­dige­nous girl fol­lowed Makayla’s foot­steps and quit chemo­ther­apy. The sec­ond girl, who can’t be named be­cause of a pub­li­ca­tion ban, even­tu­ally re­turned to treat­ment.

Laforme de­scribes the at­ti­tude at the hospi­tal at that time as, “Our way is the only way.”

“Now the voice I hear from the hospi­tal is, ‘Let’s learn about each other. Let’s fig­ure out how we go for­ward.’ That is very promis­ing ... I think there is a lot of ben­e­fit that In­dige­nous peo­ple can bring to Cana­dian so­ci­ety and Cana­dian medicine.”

The room that opened Tues­day was funded by the $300,000 sale in 2016 of an Inuit art col­lec­tion housed at the former Che­doke Hospi­tal.

“The hospi­tal has been work­ing dili­gently on a plan and strat­egy around sup­port for In­dige­nous pa­tients and fam­i­lies in our care,” said HHS spokesper­son Aaron Levo. “I would say this room is a very tan­gi­ble ex­am­ple of that work and a huge step for­ward for us.”

BARRY GRAY THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Sur­rounded by fam­ily, in­clud­ing her mother, Sonya, Makayla Sault, 11, spoke at an event in Oh­sweken. Makayla and her fam­ily re­jected chemo­ther­apy for her can­cer — her par­ents say their re­quest to use tra­di­tional medicine along­side chemo­ther­apy was re­fused.

OWEN THOMAS THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A photo of Makayla Sault, of the Mis­sis­saugas of the New Credit First Na­tion, who died in Jan­uary 2015, is seen in this un­dated hand­out photo.

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