Failure and success in Indigenous health

Hill Times October 3, 2020

On Monday, Sept. 28, Joyce Echaquan from Atikamekw died in the Joliette Hospital while nurses taunted her with racism. Joyce was expecting to experience racism; that is why she took the video. Systemic racism across provincial ministries has already been documented in the
Public Inquiry Commission on relations between Indigenous Peoples and certain public services in Quebec in 2019. Quebec Premier François Legault was quite simply wrong when he refused to admit systemic racism is alive and well, and the refusal to acknowledge racism is actually supporting racism.

Provincial and territorial health systems, professional colleges, and health education programs are responsible for eliminating systemic racism against Indigenous peoples. But the health-care system can also look to Indigenous health organizations for examples of how to provide culturally competent health services.

One health organization has excelled in the world of Indigenous community health. The First Nations Health Managers Association (FNHMA) supports the leadership and networking of health managers working in First Nations. The association’s 10-year anniversary this September is an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous success. The FNHMA offers workshops in health management and leadership, COVID-19 briefings and information sharing, and certification for First Nations health managers. The health manager in a First Nations community is responsible for
public and preventative health programs, social programs and mental health, a key role in community. (For transparency, I am a certified First Nations health manager.)

FNHMA board members refer to it as more of a family rather than an organization, and perhaps this is due to the fact that in First Nations communities the health director is focused on family well-being. The organization reflects the passion and dedication of health managers working in First Nations communities.

Marion Crowe is the CEO of the FNHMA. From Piapot First Nation in Saskatchewan, she traces her life through some of the most difficult challenges that First Nations face. Marion was a foster child, and at the age of 15 she decided to make her own way and started working.
She says her first job in the federal government was pushing a mail cart in Regina.

When asked about her success, Marion credits her drive and desire to contribute to community, and to support the strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples. “My story isn’t unique—hundreds of thousands live this reality every day,” she told me, referencing the statistics of Indigenous kids in foster care.

There is a humility in the way Marion reflects on her life and contributions to Indigenous health. She says she is “privileged to hear the stories of resiliency” from First Nations health directors from across the country.

But Marion’s story is unique. She is the first Indigenous person on the board of governors of the Ottawa Hospital. She is
also the vice-chair of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. As one of the most influential Indigenous leaders in health in Canada today, her
voice is supporting the change needed in the health-care system. Indigenous youth look to her for hope, and her advice is to “own your space at the leadership tables.” For the first time in Canada, Indigenous youth have role models at tables like the Ottawa Hospital, and it builds hope that change is actually possible.

One may wonder why I’m focusing on success here, in such a difficult week for Indigenous peoples. There is a shared value of balance across Indigenous cultures. When we discuss the heartbreaking challenges facing Indigenous peoples, we also need to reflect on the resilience of Indigenous peoples because we have some serious and urgent work to do to ensure we don’t lose another Indigenous life to racism.