Stalled progress on reconciliation in health care.

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Date: Mar. 21, 2022
From: CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal(Vol. 194, Issue 11)
Publisher: CMA Impact Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,542 words
Lexile Measure: 1400L

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Posted on cmajnews.com on March 4, 2022

For award-winning Anishinaabe artist and activist Waawaate Fobister (they/them), accessing care in health systems that weren't designed for or by Indigenous people can require an "exhausting" performance to be taken seriously.

"I hate that I have to turn it on in every single institution," Fobister says.

Fobister comes from Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation, also known as Grassy Narrows. The isolated reserve about an hour north of Kenora, Ontario, has been grappling with the health fallout of one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history.

Like an estimated 90% of the community, Fobister lives with symptoms of mercury poisoning from exposure to pollution that a nearby paper mill dumped in the English-Wabigoon River system decades ago and never cleaned up.

Mercury poisoning can permanently damage the nervous system, brain and kidneys, and the tremors, impaired speech and muscle weakness associated with the condition can look like intoxication --symptoms that Fobister says some health workers treat with disdain.

Once, when Fobister sought care for a broken arm, hospital workers repeatedly questioned if Fobister was sober and refused to provide pain medication until an x-ray proved the break. A paramedic even tossed Fobister's flip-flops onto the injured arm.

Alone, scared, and in terrible pain, "I had no energy to fight," Fobister recalls. Drawing from their years of stage experience, they asked questions instead: No, I'm not an alcoholic, but why does it matter? No, I haven't been out partying, but how does that factor into my treatment? Why can't I be treated with respect and care?

Two steps forward, one step back

Now, seven years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Fobister and others say the needle hasn't moved much on reconciliation in health care.

Slow progress on redressing the poisonings at Grassy Narrows is just one example. A hunger strike by former Treaty 3 Grand Chief Steve Fobister in 2014 spurred a review of compensation for those affected, as well as federal commitments to build a specialized treatment centre. Yet, most claims for compensation have been denied and Ontario hasn't completed a promised cleanup of the contamination. When Steve Fobister died in 2018, neither the federal nor provincial government recognized mercury poisoning as a factor.

Every year, Eva Jewell (she/her) and her colleagues at the Yellowhead Institute measure progress...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A697327360