After publicly sharing the story of her mother’s recent experience at the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg, former MKO grand chief Sheila North and her mother, Elder Sadie North, have since officially penned a letter of complaint to the Winnipeg Regional Health Board demanding that the people involved be fired.
“It is my belief that these two should not be working in the health care field, let alone at the Grace Hospital where many of us Indigenous people go for help when we are ill,” the letter reads in part.
It’s been nearly two months since Elder North said she was the target of racial profiling at the Grace and is now pushing for change.
“If our voice and my mom’s voice add to the need for changes then that’s good,” Sheila North told APTN News on why the family had sent the letter.
In the two page letter, Elder Sadie North describes her experience while in care and calls for the removal of two staff members “for harboring racist attitudes.”
The Bunibonibee Cree Nation Elder was with her family on Sept. 6 when she became sick. Sheila proceeded to take her mother to the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg.
While there – she and her family say they faced racism from staff, including a doctor.
The hospital has apologized to the North family for the treatment but Sheila says a direct apology from those directly involved has yet to be issued.
“They offered apologies from the head of nursing type person but you know my mom, you know has never, she didn’t have any dealings with her. So, I think that the people involved are the ones who should be issuing an apology and or even someone higher than that.”
APTN News reached out to the Grace Hospital for comment on the letter and if any disciplinary action had been taken.
A Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) spokesperson provided an emailed statement.
“We have thanked Elder North for bringing this matter to our attention and have apologized to her for this experience. We have assured Elder North that her concerns have been heard, and we are thankful that she brought these concerns forward to us,” said the statement from Paul Turenne.
“We are all learning from her experience, as we remain committed to providing high quality, culturally safe health care that is free of racism for everyone.”
The WRHA spokesperson also stated that the hospital has looked into the matter but could not confirm whether it was an official investigation or what action has been taken.
Family still searching for justice
Robert Sinclair continues his own search for answers when it comes to issues with health care in Winnipeg.
Twelve years ago, his cousin Brian Sinclair died from sepsis in a Winnipeg hospital waiting 34 hours for care that did not come. Sinclair says the North family has to keep pushing for answers, no matter how long and hard the journey.
“Keep it loud, you know keep talking about it, keep bringing it up you know… Expose them for who they really are you know what I mean and what’s really going on there you know. Like you have the capacity, the will to do it, then please do it,” stated Sinclair in a phone interview with APTN.
Sinclair also believes Sheila North’s name and reputation helped in this situation, and is not sure Elder North’s story would have been heard without it.
“I started thinking if this wasn’t Sheila North, and this lady had nobody or whatever, it wouldn’t have went anywhere. You know it wouldn’t have caught the ears of anybody you know.”
When asked what he would say to Elder North and her family, Sinclair had a simple message.
“Just keep it going, don’t get discouraged. That’s it, that’s all I can say.”
Elder North said the staff at the Grace hospital were yelling at her and did not assist her in getting to the waiting room area.
Eventually a staff member pushed her into the hall where she threw up twice.
She said the next thing she remembers is waking up in a bed, with the doctor asking her questions about alcohol use, which she said she has never used.
Cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, on her leg turned out to be the cause of her sickness.
She also had a fat lip upon leaving the hospital, although the family isn’t sure if that was from some of the strong medication she was on or something else.
Sheila North believes her mother’s story highlights the work that still needs to be done surrounding racism and problems within the health care system.
“This is a systemic issue that has to be addressed at the higher levels and whether or not this complaint and others like it resonate individually to you know the local, I guess hospitals and health authorities, that’s part of it,” she said.
“But I think it has to also register in you know the higher levels in the decision making around racism.”
The North family held a news conference on Oct 16 – the same day that Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller met with Indigenous leaders in Quebec and across Canada to discuss racism in Canada’s health care system.
The meeting was called because of the Sept. 28 death of Joyce Echaquan. The Atikmekw mother of seven was in distress in a Joliette, Quebec hospital when she livestreamed a nurse and hospital attendant hurling racist taunts and comments at her. She died shortly after making the video.
Just weeks after her death, Georges-Hervé Awashish from a different Atikmekw community said he was on his way back from the bathroom at a hospital in Chicoutimi, Que. when he overheard staff discussing Echaquan’s case and laughing.
He told his son about what he had overheard. Hervé Awashish died in hospital on Oct. 11.
In B.C., a investigation is underway into allegations that staff in an emergency room played a racist game they guessed the alcohol level of incoming patients.