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The Interdisciplinarian

HPHR Fellow Sofia Weiss Goitiandia

By Sofia Weiss Goitiandia

Decolonising Medicine:
A Discussion about Indigenous Health with Nick Bauer (Part 1)

Graphic by Nick Bauer.

For my last two posts as an columnist for HPHR, the articles that follow are a summary of my discussion with Nick Bauer (he/him), a young academic and activist from Canada, who works mainly in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Nick is a member of the organisation Medical Herstory (https://medicalherstory.com/), and in August 2021 he organised an event hosting several Indigenous leaders, healers, and storytellers, who kindly shared their perspectives on Indigenous gender and health equity in Canada (find the recording at: https://youtu.be/wzxP7ZD_fRU). Impacted by this event’s content, I reached out to Nick about using the HPHR platform to amplify key messages from the discussion.

 

The columns presented here introduce Nick and his work (Part 1), and then delve into an in-depth discussion about Indigenous Health in Canada (Parts 1 & 2). We also discuss what can and needs to be done for systemic and meaningful change to Canadian healthcare, with the aim of making sure that everyone is treated justly by the healthcare system, and that better health for all in Canada becomes a reality (Part 2).

 

Content warning: In these articles, topics pertaining to SRHR are explored. Further, several cases of extreme injustice committed against Indigenous peoples in Canada are mentioned. Though details are not given gratuitously, we did feel it important to be factful about the discrimination and abuses Indigenous peoples in Canada have faced, so as to sensitise on the topic and make absolutely clear how such mistreatment has, and continues to, occur. Some readers may find the examples given tragic and disturbing – in short, because they are. Please take the time to decide if you wish to engage with this content or not, and read with care if you think you might be affected by the text.


A note on our own reflections about the process of creating this piece of writing: Nick and I are both white-presenting individuals who have thus directly benefited from white privilege as well as ingrained structures of power that continue to systematically oppress Indigenous people. It is not at all our intention here to present ourselves as experts or as people who have personally suffered anti-Indigenous discrimination. However, we do feel shocked and outraged about the treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and have sought to educate ourselves about the injustices that Indigenous individuals and communities face to this day. We have tried our utmost here to create a sensitive and informed piece of text, which we hope can be a useful source of information about Indigenous Health in Canada, as well as promote discussion and ideally positive actions in response to it – which we ourselves are also trying to take, including through the organisations with which we are involved. 


Section 1: Learning about Nick and His Work

 

S: Hi Nick, thank you for agreeing to speak to me today. I’d like to start by asking if you can tell our readers a little about your background, so that they can get to know who you are before we delve into the discussion based on the event on Indigenous Health that you ran. Could you give me an overview of yourself and your activism?


N: Hello! My name is Nick Bauer, and I’m a Queer and Métis man from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada. I am currently in my fourth year of studies in Cellular, Physiological, and Pharmacological Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan. I am deeply passionate about SRHR advocacy, a field that I have been active in for quite some time now. Through my work, I have been involved in several organisations, including Medical Herstory, LetsStopAIDS, the SHOUT Project, and the International AIDS Society. I also engage in two independent research projects, investigating the physiology underlying labour in one and Immigration health policies for people living with HIV in the other.


I became interested in SRHR during my time in high school. As a Queer person, I felt as though my high school sexual health education forgot about me. More broadly, I started to feel – and still strongly do – that current sex-ed curricula systematically underequip people to approach their sexuality in a safe, informed, and equitable manner. After high school, I couldn’t get over this unjust reality and so I became active in trying to promote a different kind of sexual health education – one that is Queer-inclusive, comprehensive, and trauma-informed. This is where it all started for me, though I soon branched out into many different aspects of SRHR advocacy and activism.

 

S: We’ve both been involved with Medical Herstory, an organisation that I discuss in some of my earlier blog posts (particularly post two). Could you tell me about how you became involved in Medical Herstory, and what it is that you do there?


N: I found out about Medical Herstory when I came across one of their online posts, and after exploring their website and social media, I knew that this organisation matched my passions perfectly. I sent in my application in December of 2020, and so have now been active in the organisation for about a year. I strongly believe in the transformative work that Medical Herstory does, especially because it also strikes a personal chord in me. Growing up my mother had endometriosis, which eventually required a total hysterectomy. However, before this procedure, I watched on for years as she was dismissed, ignored, and unbelieved by the medical system. What makes it even more shocking though is that, technically, she was ‘lucky’: she received effective treatment in only four years, when the average time it takes for a person to receive a diagnosis for endometriosis is around eight years. Being present for my mother’s experience really crystallised for me that realities like hers are symptoms of a healthcare system that routinely ignores the pain and wellness of women and gender diverse people.


At Medical Herstory, I have been primarily involved in the Medical Education portfolio. I started as an events chair before I became the Medical Education Project Leader. As part of my role, I organised a ‘Pregnancy in a Pandemic’ panel event with Students for Global Health in Cambridge, UK, as well as a ‘Decolonising Medicine’ event focused on Indigenous Health in Canada — which will be central to our discussion today. In addition, I have also helped facilitate Medical Herstory’s ‘Gender Bias in Medicine’ workshop at different medical schools around the world, including at one of your universities, Sofia, Karolinska Institutet. It’s been very busy, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Medical Herstory so far, and I strongly believe in the power of our work.

 

Section 2: Indigenous Health in Canada

 

S: The idea for creating these posts came from an event on Indigenous Health that you organised and ran with Medical Herstory, and which hosted a panel of incredibly knowledgeable and inspirational Indigenous speakers (links to their profiles are provided at the end of this article). After learning about this event, I felt that there was a good opportunity to use the HPHR platform to further discuss this topic, and in a slightly different setting too, such that it might reach an even wider public.


I am not an expert on Indigenous Health, nor do I have any experience of personal discrimination based on my race or heritage, I’ll give that disclaimer right away. Nonetheless, I have prepared some questions that I hope can guide an informative and appropriate conversation on Indigenous Health in Canada, drawing in particular from Medical Herstory’s event, and the knowledge and experiences generously shared by the panellists there.


Keeping all of this in mind, perhaps a sensible place to start our conversation is to discuss what we mean when we refer to ‘Indigenous people’ or ‘Indigenous communities’?


N: In Canada, we recognise Indigenous peoples as the original stewards of the lands and waters of Turtle Island, or North America. There are three distinct Indigenous groups in Canada, although Indigenous people are diverse and may identify uniquely. The First Nations are those who originate typically from south of the Treeline, and the Inuit are from lands closer to the Arctic circle. Finally, the Métis are a distinct group of both Indigenous and European descent. I myself identify as Métis. My ancestors originate from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, and I am joining you here today from Treaty Six territory, the traditional homeland of the Cree and Métis peoples.


I would also like to provide a disclaimer, which is that I am white-presenting and so benefit from white privilege, as well as from systems and structures that oppress people of colour, including Indigenous people. I by no means pose myself as an expert in these issues, nor do I have lived experience of racist discrimination. I pursued the event with Medical Herstory on ‘Decolonising Medicine’ because I learned of the horrific tragedies committed against Indigenous people by our healthcare system, shockingly including in the place where I grew up. Thus, my goal with this event was to use the privileges I have to educate myself and other future healthcare providers on Indigenous health equity, specifically, by helping to share and amplify the voices of Indigenous leaders, storytellers, and healers.


S: Can you give some background as to why society needs to (at the very minimum) talk about Indigenous Health at this time, in 2021?


N: The initial motivation for the event began during the ‘Quarantine Summer’ of 2020, and the tragic and senseless murder of George Floyd in the USA. There was at this time a sense of ‘Canadian exceptionalism’ – the idea that these sorts of injustices and crimes are only committed south of the border, in the United States. And this is just simply wrong. Indigenous people in Canada have and continue to suffer systematic oppression, discrimination, and violence (e.g., Loppie et al., 2014). Police brutality happens here too – we only have to think of the Saskatoon freezing deaths to see that. For those who don’t know, the Saskatoon freezing deaths or ‘starlight tours’ were when police officers would arrest Indigenous people, usually men, often while ‘supposedly’ intoxicated, drive them to the outskirts of the city at night in winter, and leave them stranded there in sub-zero temperatures. At least three Indigenous men – Rodney Naistus, Lawrence Wegner, and Neil Stonechild – lost their lives in this way, although it is suspected that this number may be much higher. No police officers to date have ever been convicted for their involvement in the freezing deaths (Razack, 2014).


There are also cases of extreme injustice from the medical or healthcare sphere. In 2017, Dr. Yvonne Boyer and Dr. Judith Bartlett published an external review entitled “Tubal Ligation in the Saskatoon Health Region: The Lived Experience of Aboriginal Women.” This review found that doctors had been forcibly and coercively sterilising Indigenous women in the place that I grew up (Boyer & Bartlett, 2017). This was shocking to me, as was the fact that it had been so ‘under-the-rug’ and that very few people knew about, or acted against, what was going on.


So, why talk about this now? Because too many people in Saskatoon and in Canada don’t know a thing about these realities, and so little has been done to secure justice for the victims and to address systemic racism. Indigenous people have been inequitably treated for years, and in fact, they have been talking about these injustices this entire time, only to be ignored. People need to listen and do something about what has and continues to happen. With the event that I helped organise with Medical Herstory, we hoped to facilitate the sharing of Indigenous voices and experiences in order to educate current and future healthcare providers on these inequities and injustices.

Ultimately, the aim was to promote awareness, encourage systemic change and to call for the perpetrators of these acts to be held accountable.


Links to the Medical Herstory Event Speakers’ Profiles:

 

Perry McLeod-Shabogesic, whose spirit name is ‘Anzoked’:

https://www.aanmitaagzi.net/about/founding-members/perry-mcleod-shabogesic/


Dr. Veronica McKinney:

https://thestarphoenix.com/life/bridges/caring-for-the-north-dr-veronica-mckinney-works-to-advance-indigenous-health-in-sask 

https://medicine.usask.ca/profiles/family-medicine/nms/veronica-mckinney.php


Dr. Karen Stote:

https://www.wlu.ca/academics/faculties/faculty-of-arts/faculty-profiles/karen-stote/index.html


Katsi Cook: 

https://spiritaligned.org/tekatsitsiakwa-katsi-cook-executive-director/


Holly Graham:

https://nursing.usask.ca/people/holly-graham.php



References

 

Boyer, Y., & Bartlett, J. (2017). External review : Tubal ligation procedures in the Saskatoon Health Region : The Lived Experience of Aboriginal Women. https://www.saskatoonhealthregion.ca/news/media-centre/Pages/External-review-of-tubal-ligation-procedures.aspxhttps://www.saskatoonhealthregion.ca/news/media-centre/Pages/External-review-of-tubal-ligation-procedures.aspx

 

Loppie, S., Reading, C., & de Leeuw, S. (2014). NCCIH – National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health : Indigenous experiences with racism and its impacts. http://www.nccah-ccnsa.ca/en/


Razack, S. (2014). “It Happened More Than Once” : Freezing Deaths in Saskatchewan. Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 26(1), 51‑80. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjwl.26.1.51

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