HHS bridging gap with Indigenous families
New room at hospital dedicated in memory of Makayla Sault
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.”
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.
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.