Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

People take part in a protest called ‘Justice for Joyce’ in Montreal, Oct. 3, 2020, where they demanded Justice for Joyce Echaquan and an end to all systemic racism.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

James Maskalyk is an emergency physician, associate professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine and author of the forthcoming book Doctor: Heal Thyself. Dave Courchene is the founder of the Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness and chair of its National Knowledge Keepers’ Council.

Emergency department visits are down across the country because people are not sure they are safe. For First Nations, the uncertainty is familiar, but has little to do with COVID-19. The hesitation comes from reports that continue to emerge suggesting the care one receives in hospitals depends on who you are. Or aren’t. Like Joyce Echaquan. Lillian Vanasse. Sarah Morrison’s unborn baby, who died en route to a distant hospital in British Columbia after being turned away from her closest one.

If you need other stories, read the 2020 report on racism in health care, “In Plain Sight,” commissioned by the government of British Columbia. Some will argue their details, that these deaths would have happened even if these people weren’t First Nations seeking medical care. Even if true, it misses a larger point. The Indigenous community is systematically denied, more than any other group, the most important medicine a person can receive when they are suffering: kindness. Their fight for it is one that will lift us all.

Story continues below advertisement

If you’ve listened to Ms. Echaquan’s last video, the absence of empathy is glaring. She is told she doesn’t belong in a place all governments have pledged to flex beyond capacity to accommodate those infected with the coronavirus. For many First Nations, the sentiment is familiar, as it is to other deliberately oppressed groups. To whomever it is directed, the message sent, and received, is that in these shared spaces, some people’s pain matters less.

It is not true. We are all beautiful, down to our last cell, and deserving of grace. Suggesting otherwise, especially as a final injustice delivered to a person after a lifetime of them, eats away at the safety of the people who mourn them. While there are innumerable examples of kind and effective care delivered to people, regardless of background, that a person never knows which she might encounter, creates chronic stress and a reluctance to seek help. Further, the refusal to engage at a human level means the system can neither learn about, nor meet, her true challenges. These echo against each other, and emerge as worse health outcomes in individuals and their communities, including from COVID-19. To remedy this, the cause must be addressed.

The root of these erosive attitudes, whether is it formed around race, sex, age, income or some other arbitrary line, comes from the colonial belief that nature is a pyramid, with humans at the top, animals below, bugs near the bottom. This type of hierarchical thinking continues within each stratum, with some members of the human family certain they occupy a superior, or as worryingly, a less deserving position. This attitude of dominance, first over the earth, and by extension one person over another, kindles pandemics, climate change, insurrection, violence, inequity and addiction. Only by appreciating our true place in nature as equal to and dependent on every other part of it, will we know freedom from these.

There is no greater goal than safe spaces centred on respect and compassion. With that intention, particularly to address anti-Indigenous racism in health care, a meeting occurred in late January between provincial and federal governments, with representatives from Inuit, Métis and First Nations. At its conclusion, the federal government promised to develop legislation devoted to improving Indigenous health, and strike a National Consortium for Indigenous Medical Education.

These are familiar steps. No law, so far, has succeeded, and if a more effective one was written, the behaviour it prohibits will emerge another way. Further, the problem is larger than health care, and the education must address all manners of discrimination woven into our institutions. They are, after all, made only of people.

A national curriculum should be developed for Canada’s youth, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, teaching natural laws seen from a First Nations perspective, as passed down for thousands of years. Developed and led by First Nations across the country, it would do more than introduce the youth to the depth of a culture right in their midst; it would teach them, through experience, ancestral ways of stewardship, and kindle in them a spiritual relationship with the planet. To live in peace, a person must learn the kindness of the Earth as directed toward all living things, for when we feel that love, it grows through us to include all of humanity. Once this occurs, it is not possible to look at another person, particularly one who is struggling, with anything but kindness.

This is not the ground Ms. Echaquan’s pleas found, but we maintain her aim as the only thing that makes sense for all of us. As we change, our system does with us, and everyone will be included in our healing.

Story continues below advertisement

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies