Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Every leader must work to rid health-care system of anti-Indigenous racism: Miller

Miller said Indigenous people must be prioritized in COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Canadians expect concrete measures from politicians to ensure everyone — Indigenous people included — has access to first-class medical treatment, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said ahead of a meeting on systemic racism in the health system.

“This is a jurisdiction (that) is jealously guarded by provinces, but when it comes to issues like racism, systemic racism, discrimination, every leader in this country has a leadership role to play in calling it out and getting rid of it,” Miller told a news conference Wednesday.

“We know, going into the meeting, that there is systemic racism in the health-care system in every province and in every territory.”

First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders and representatives along with four federal cabinet ministers are taking part in the two-day virtual meeting to discuss anti-Indigenous racism in the health-care system.

Last fall, Miller convened an urgent meeting on the issue after Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman, died in hospital in September in Joliette, Que., after she filmed staff making derogatory comments about her. The video was shared around the world.

The second meeting is meant to focus on specific steps to eliminate racism in the health-care system and what provincial and territorial governments are doing to address it. Miller said he asked participants at the last meeting to think about possible solutions.

Miller said jurisdictional squabbles between the federal government and the provinces and territories can also result in inequitable treatment.

“This is what we talk about when we talk about outcomes and systemic racism,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected Indigenous communities disproportionately, Miller said. The latest figures from Indigenous Services Canada show that as of Tuesday, there have been 15,894 cases of COVID-19, including 144 deaths, in First Nations communities.

“We know that Indigenous populations — we have the numbers, we have the casualties to prove it — are three-and-a-half times, to five times, more vulnerable to COVID,” he said.

Miller said Indigenous people living on reserves, but also those in urban areas, must be prioritized in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said Indigenous communities are vulnerable to COVID-19 because they don’t have access to decent health care.

Some are hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from the nearest medical centre and many First Nations communities still don’t have access to clean drinking water.

“(This) one of the reasons why it’s so vitally important to get the vaccine to these communities,” Singh said.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done but basic human rights and decency for the First People of this land include drinking water, access to education and health care.”

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout prioritize people who live and work in long-term care homes, people over the age of 80, front-line health workers, and adults in Indigenous communities where an outbreak can be particularly harmful and hard to manage.

The recommendations also note that racialized and marginalized people can be disproportionately affected by COVID-19. “These populations may be considered for immunization concurrent with remote and isolated Indigenous communities if feasibly identified within jurisdictions, understanding that these are traditionally hardly reached populations for immunization programs,” the committee states in its guidelines.

Dr. Tom Wong, chief medical officer of public health at Indigenous Services Canada, said there are large groups of underserved Indigenous populations in urban centres and they shouldn’t be forgotten.

“There are extensive discussions right now in place in order to look at how provinces can be supported to reach out to the unserved, underserved population,” he said.

Wong said the federal government is supporting a vaccine program targeting the underserved homeless population in Montreal.

“We know that provinces and territories need the help and the public health officials within the federal government are here to help.”

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

HealthcareIndigenousracism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

It’s been almost a year since the last public performance inside the Chemainus Theatre. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Lead donors pledge $60,000 in matching campaign at the Chemainus Theatre

Perrys, Hiltons and Duncan Iron Works help to Bridge the Gap during COVID shutdown

Doug Routley is the chair of a special committee on reforming the Police Act. (File photo)
Routley selected chair of a special committee on reforming the Police Act

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA acknowledges there will be a lot of material to process

Ladysmith’s famous Festival of Lights decorations are still up as of March 1, 2021. (Cole Schisler photo)
PHOTOS: It’s still looking a lot like Christmas in Ladysmith

Festival of Lights volunteers cannot remove the holiday roof top displays due to COVID-19

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Firefighters from three departments battled a house fire south of Nanaimo for more than nine hours Sunday. (Photo courtesy Martin Leduc)
Home in Cedar destroyed by fire

Firefighters from three fire departments battle blaze fanned by strong winds Sunday

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (File photo)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

(File photo)
RCMP arrest man after report of gun-toting, threat-maker near Parksville schools

43-year-old man taken into custody; students at nearby schools were asked to stay inside

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

Vancouver and Victoria both have a MySafe machine to help reduce overdoses

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Nanaimo RCMP are looking for a suspect who smashed the window of an adult toy store and made off with more than $1,200 in merchandise. (File photo)
Vancouver Island sex shop out $1,200 in merchandise after suspect steals ‘colossal’ product

Suspect smashed window of Nanaimo store, cutting himself in the process

Most Read