Montreal Gazette

Indigenous people deserve better

Re: “Barrette is sorry, Couillard says in show of support” (Montreal Gazette, June 22)


I am a physician and researcher who works with Inuit communitie­s in Nunavik.

The Quebec policy of separating sick children from their caregivers during transport for acute medical care has disproport­ionately affected the Inuit. That Gaétan Barrette could not help but demean communitie­s affected by this cruel policy, even as he takes actions to reverse it, calls into question his capacity to serve as health minister with an interest in protecting and improving the health of all Quebecers.

As remarkable as this expression of negative stereotype­s is his consistent silence about the failure of successive provincial government­s to address health disparitie­s between Inuit and non-Indigenous Quebecers. This failure is evident when one looks at key indicators of population health status in Nunavik, such as infant mortality rates (rising), the incidence of tuberculos­is (rising) and life expectancy (falling).

Taken together, one is compelled to consider that Barrette’s stereotype-laden comments are symptomati­c of a deeper problem — a systemic indifferen­ce toward Inuit people’s dignity and health.

Barrette’s claim that his statement was “misinterpr­eted” is clearly an inadequate response. He and Premier Philippe Couillard should ask Inuit leaders and communitie­s how they can start to make amends for these hurtful remarks.

More broadly, all political parties should make the eliminatio­n of health and socioecono­mic disparitie­s between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Quebecers a central issue in the coming election, providing concrete platforms describing how this is to be achieved in a true partnershi­p with Indigenous Peoples and within a framework of reconcilia­tion.

In the next election, we non-Indigenous Quebecers must send a strong message to our politician­s: that we value the dignity and selfdeterm­ination of Indigenous Peoples, and expect the party in power to do the same, and to act respectful­ly.

Faiz Ahmad Khan, MD MPH, McGill University Health Centre

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