In­dige­nous peo­ple de­serve bet­ter

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

Montreal Gazette - - OPINION -

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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