Indigenous leaders were encouraged by Friday’s meeting on racism against First Nations people in health care, but some fear that a possible federal-provincial bickering over health jurisdiction will become an obstacle in this file.
“We have nothing to gain by working in isolation with Quebec and then working in parallel with the federal government. We are invited to the same meeting, ”said in an interview the head of the Manawan Attikamek Council, Paul-Émile Ottawa.
The indigenous leader of the community of Joyce Echaquan – the mother of seven who died of racist insults at the Joliette hospital – hopes that Ottawa and Quebec will put aside their disagreements to offer, together, better access to quality health services for First Nations people.
“It’s been going on for too long,” he added, stressing the urgency of the situation.
The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, Ghislain Picard, agreed after taking part in the virtual meeting which brought together more than 400 people.
“There are nevertheless precedents, the Jordan principle in particular […], where there is a recognition that we cannot go on discussing jurisdictional conflicts when people’s lives are at stake, ”he maintained.
Friday’s meeting, which was called urgently by Ottawa in the wake of Joyce Echaquan’s death, was primarily aimed at hearing testimonies from Indigenous health professionals who experience racism in their workplaces on a daily basis.
The federal Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller, has indicated that the responsibility of professional orders, at the ethical level, has been discussed. He said he hopes provincial governments will work together and not just “jealously” defend their provincial jurisdiction over health.
“What everyone has learned is that there is a lot of work to be done. Systemic racism is not going to be eliminated overnight, but it is no excuse not to act now, ”he added.
A follow-up meeting will be held in January and an action plan will be developed, he said.
The new Quebec Minister of Native Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, was there on Friday. In a statement sent by his office, he said he was determined to move things forward so that Indigenous people regain their confidence in the health system.
“We know that the tragedy in Joliette is not an isolated event and the testimonies heard today remind us once again.”