Not Going Away



So. Missing and Murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

This last weekend, I was working on a podcast that touches on issues in Canadian health care. During discussion with my co-hosts, the topic of aboriginal Canadian health came up. Naturally, colonialism followed close behind.

In the wake of recent political events, and an apparently radicalizing world, many Canadians like to feel smug. Things aren’t so bad here.

Yeah right.

The systematic destruction of an entire group of people has gone on so long and so effectively in this country that most non-aboriginal Canadians don’t even think about it. First Nation’s culture is a brief subject taught in elementary school. It’s in the past.

I’m not going to cite any particular evidence: go and find the disgusting reality yourself. The accounts of children being ripped away from parents and abused in residential schools, then dumped back into the world bereft of history, culture, and identity is long and brutal.

I’m going to focus on a personal story: Years ago, I was listening to stories during a quiet moment in the ER. Docs and other staff telling tales about their notorious patients. One came up, a fellow who was chronically drunk, homeless, and always looking for freebies. He was known to feign chest pains so that the ambulance would bring him to the hospital, then deny everything at triage. His motive was allegedly getting a free ride to the liquor store next door. He was an aboriginal Canadian. The docs laughed, and shook their heads. And I did too, because I’m white and it was a bunch of white people standing around.

Shame on me.

An event at work a little while ago brought this story to mind, and I had a different thought: instead of disparaging this man, who wasted so much of our public health care dollars on booze, why not curse my own culture and history, which doomed this individual to need to use our health care dollars to buy another lousy bottle of liquid death. This is true entrapment.

Gord Downie was recently presented with an Eagle feather for his work on exposing our shameful Canadian history of genocide-by-attrition.  I’m not a fan of the Hip, but I would also like to advocate for my patients who are aboriginal Canadians.


I am afraid. I work in an even whiter hospital than ever before, and the prejudice is onerous, continuous. It washes over me constantly, in unthinking comments, statement about communities “up North” that make others of my fellows. It makes a milieu so palpable that when I step into a patient’s room and have to face the wary eyes of someone who has been hurt so many times before, I feel choked and afraid that I will harm. It it so easy to agree with people that you work closely with, and you value and that you share so much in common in, and it is disruptive to collegial rapport when one party stands to advocate. It makes everyone in that group uncomfortable.

But it can’t be more uncomfortable than having someone else strip all of that away. Again and again and again.


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