Illustration: Hummingbird Whorl by Margaret August from the In Her Circle report – This design represents Coast Salish-style hummingbirds. Hummingbird medicine brings a healing modality to each person who comes in contact with them. They also have a loving vibration and when they cross someone’s path, they are bringing a loving energy to anyone they encounter.
Trigger warning: This article includes information about Residential School experiences.
All that love. All that potential. All the shame, rage, and despair that comes with living in a country where such profound racism extinguished two hundred fifteen (and counting) beautiful souls. Children buried in an unmarked mass grave like secrets, on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation lands.
As a settler, I struggle to find my appropriate place in this; for our organization and me. When the BC Women’s Health Foundation learned of this genocide, we fell silent out of respect and held space for days of grieving as Elders and families conducted the rituals that would return these spirits to their ancestors.
With June being Indigenous History Month, I’ve been reflecting on how we as a nation have gotten here and how all of it has been done by colonial design. Be it stolen land, broken treaties, forced sterilizations, child apprehension, 150,000+ children forced to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society, all while experiencing multi-generational racism at every turn. This is the systemic distrust Canada has fostered within Indigenous people from the very beginning. It was all on purpose, in plain sight, and every system built to support society was designed to marginalize Indigenous people even further.
And I want to be certain as we head towards National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st that we acknowledge racism toward Indigenous people is not history. It’s not in the past. It’s not “over.” The last residential school in Canada closed only in 1997. The final “Indian hospital” ceased operations in 1981.
The trauma fuelled by the systemic racism inherent within these evil institutions has and will continue to wash over generations to come.
In our role as a women’s health equity organization, BCWHF acknowledges that our current healthcare policies and practices have colonial, racist roots. In November’s In Plain Sight report, which addressed Indigenous-specific racism and discrimination within BC’s healthcare system, Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s review acknowledged this. So too did the research conducted by Reciprocal Consulting, an Indigenous women-led and owned company, on Indigenous women’s experiences within the healthcare system.
“The Review also found that this widespread racism has long been known by many within the health care system, including those in positions of authority, and is widely acknowledged by many who work in the system.”
– Dr. M.E. Turpel-Lafond (Aki-Kwe)
When systems, be it healthcare, legal, child welfare, or education, are not safe spaces for Indigenous people, it is up to those proximate to those systems to advocate for change. In healthcare, BCWHF can and will. That is my pledge, and BC Women’s Health Foundation is committed to keeping our community apprised of these efforts as we advance along this journey.
Today, we stand with and support Indigenous peoples in mourning.
Our work ahead will be to advocate for policy change and healthcare investment that roots out the discrimination, inequity, and racism that continue to cause harm to Indigenous communities.
In April, BCWHF released the In Her Circle report in conjunction with Reciprocal Consulting, which looked at the influence of COVID-19 on Indigenous women’s health in BC. It contained 20 recommendations that would allow the healthcare system to flourish to meet the needs and rights of Indigenous women.
Among the many lessons learned in working with Reciprocal Consulting was the value of deep listening. I want to honour that by reserving the final word for a cherished Indigenous knowledge holder, educator, and leader.
“Gilakas’la, thank you Genesa and the phenomenal team at BC Women’s Health Foundation for stepping into this space to speak up and speak out about our genocidal history in Canada. What has become apparent for Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation is what we can expect to hear for many, many more Nations across Canada. This is not a shock; Indigenous people have known about their missing family; Indigenous people have been asking for action for decades and decades; asking to be treated as humans and for a stop to this violence … this event is a continued call for action, and we welcome all into this space to make it right.”
– Dr. Kim van der Woerd, ‘Namgis Nation + Founder, Reciprocal Consulting
In these sorrowful times, we stand together with heavy hearts for all missing and undocumented children, their families, and survivors. We encourage you to read and share the following:
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action
- The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Reclaiming Power and Place final report and its Calls For Justice
- You can also find support on the First Nations Health Authority website or call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066 or 604-985-4464.
Genesa M. Greening
President + CEO, BC Women’s Health Foundation