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