In 2015, Ted Quewezance spoke on the floor of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) annual meeting, the first residential school survivor to address that gathering in its more than 150-year history. In a speech that brought many to tears (including me), Ted talked about Indigenous Peoples reaching out to the Canadian physicians, hoping that they would reach back; that the status quo was not an option to those suffering unthinkable health impacts. Those words continue to ring true many years later.
Building on past work in Indigenous health, this year the CMA announced an Indigenous health goal to set aside space in our long-term strategy and health system advocacy, developed by a Guiding Circle of First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders, experts and knowledge-keepers.
As with all other areas of health care, goals are only achievable if trust is found between willing partners. Today, we formally recognize that the deep trust that should exist between health providers and Indigenous patients, families and communities continues to be damaged by racism, inequitable access, and ongoing harm from people and institutions within our health systems.
Trust comes before reconciliation. With that in mind, the CMA recognizes that a vital untaken step on the road to reconciliation remains a formal apology to Indigenous Peoples — rooted in an accurate, shared history and what matters most to Indigenous Peoples.
Today, the CMA announces the beginning of this journey and its commitment to an apology for the harms caused to Indigenous Peoples as the national voice of physicians.
The path to an apology, informed by an honest examination of the CMA’s history, will require many uncomfortable and painful conversations. We hope through this process the CMA and the medical profession can go through necessary transformation and come closer to reconciliation.
The profession’s history is Canada’s history. It includes the devastating impacts of Indian hospitals, forced medical experimentation on Indigenous Peoples, disparate infrastructure investment, as well as systemic racism, neglect and abuse. It’s a “past” that remains present in the day-to-day experiences of Indigenous Peoples across our shared lands.
To be meaningful, this apology must happen over time, building on aggregated moments towards an end goal of re-discovering each other and rebuilding trust between providers and Indigenous patients, families and communities.
As the first Indigenous president of the CMA, I stand resolute with this organization to take these next steps in a good way. We are committed to an apology as a meaningful step towards reconciliation, and walking with Indigenous Peoples towards a “…transformed health system that is free of racism and discrimination; upholds Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination; values, respects and holds safe space for Indigenous worldviews, medicine and healing practices; and provides equitable access to culturally safe, trauma-informed care for all First Nations, Inuit and Métis.”
Dr. Alika Lafontaine
President, Canadian Medical Association