'Now is the time for intensive legislative policy and action': Indigenous women discuss progress on In Plain Sight report

The UBC Learning Circle, the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health and the First Nations House of Learning hosted Decolonizing Wellness: Indigenous Women’s Perspective Healthcare on Tuesday.

The all-day event — moderated by Dr. Margaret Moss and Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond — featured Indigenous women elders and chiefs, as well as workers and leaders in healthcare. Hosted virtually at UBC, it took place on the shared traditional homelands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

Discussions on leadership, cultural change and the recognition of systemic disparities were the focal point of the event. In the Responding to Recommendations panel, speakers talked through the recommendations in the In Plain Sight report — a 228-page report by Turpel-Lafond summarizing instances of anti-Indigenous discrimination in the BC healthcare system — to identify existing initiatives, and those that are still needed, to address the health equity barriers for Indigenous women.

“Now is the time for intensive legislative policy and action,” said Chief Lynn Malerba of Mohegan Tribe. “From our first contact with European immigrants, healthcare has changed forever. We now have the opportunity to enforce mechanisms that can ensure that the health needs of our women are met.”

The speakers identified several calls to action from the report that are currently unfulfilled, including requiring all medical students to study Indigenous health issues in depth. As the only medical school in BC, UBC has an active role in the healthcare system. While UBC’s 23 24 curriculum has gained more momentum through the years, panelists said that more can be done.

“There are over 4,500 trainees studying at UBC Health,” said Dr. Nadine Caron of the Ojibwe Nation.“ Choosing to be a healthcare professional in the system means lifelong learning ... You can’t just take one course, you have to go on and keep on learning.”

Panelists also agreed that education on Indigenous health should be extended to healthcare researchers and educators.

Dr. Kate Elliot of the Métis nation added that empathy, reflection and listening should continue to guide the development of both policy and curricula. “None of us were surprised by the statistics that we heard. We’ve been saying this for a long time, but it took a different entity to validate our experience. Doing research and coming with an open heart — these are two things that people can apply while starting these conversations.”

To Leslie Bonshor of the Stó:lō Nation, addressing how these issues affect Indigenous women as a whole — both within and outside of BC — is also a key factor in developing systems that amplify indigenous voices. “The Indigenous lens is starting to be hardwired into everything we do at Vancouver Coastal Health,” she said. “We need to keep having these conversations with Indigenous people, creating safety and considering the decisions we make throughout our processes.”

There was unanimous agreement that legislative planning and accountability were the most crucial pieces of work in holding people accountable.

“I raise my hands to those who have shared their stories,” said Dawn Thomas of the Snuneymuxw Nation. “There is zero accountability in the healthcare system. Cultural safety, humility and training won’t change the hearts and minds of everyone.”

These changes are highly transformative, and it will likely take time to reach this point in care. However, there is a sense of urgency, and responsibility must be delegated to the right areas.

“Being Indigenous is our strength, colonialism is our deficit,” said Dr. Terri Aldred, a Carrier of the Tl’azt’en nation. “We need our stories that can’t be forgotten and data that can’t be ignored. It’s a system perpetuated through racism, patriarchy and white supremacy. It’s important for all of us to turn the mirror around and reflect inwards.”

This piece has been updated. A previous version misquoted Leslie Bonshor who was speaking about Vancouver Coastal Health, not Fraser Heatlh.