A long time ago, back in Saskatoon, an acquaintance rolled her eyes when she talked about Indigenous people. According to her, they got free medicare (don’t we all?), free transportation by train to a hospital, and free university tuition. “Really?,” said my other friend drily, “Would you change your life for that of an Indigenous person—FOR ONE WEEK?” The first woman slunk away.
Nearly twenty years later, I’m following three stories in the last three weeks alone.
Item 1: This is not a joke: An Indigenous man, Kamao Cappo, walked into a Canadian Tire store in Regina, Sk. He told the clerk he wanted a chain saw, but when presented with one at the cash, he realized he needed a different model. So he went to the store shelves to have a look.
Cappo, at a rally with his supporters, in the Canadian Tire parking lot in Regina (CBC photo).
A white male clerk walked over to him and told him to leave the store – why, what for? asked Cappo. “Come on you are leaving – now” said the white clerk. What unfolded was pushing and pulling by the clerk who weighed 100 pounds more and was about 20 years younger than Cappo. When the clerk saw that Cappo was video recording the events on his phone, the clerk got furious and threatened to take his phone away. The clerk told Cappo it was “illegal” to take a picture of him, and ordered him to delete it. When Cappo asked him, the clerk refused to give his name. He accused Cappo of trying to steal the chain saw, and continued to drag him from the building.
Cappo posted the video after the incident. (see: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/07/28/indigenous-man-live-streams-altercation-with-canadian-tire-employee.html
Canadian Tire’s response was to apologise to the public “for the experience that occurred in our store and we are actively reviewing all of the facts surrounding this matter. We are communicating with Mr. Cappo directly.” But Canadian Tire is dissembling – Cappo has received neither a personal apology, nor even a token gift card from Canadian Tire.
The police say they are ‘investigating’, but so far the police maintain it is unclear if Cappo’s race played a role. Ironically, the assault took place the same week the Assembly of First Nations was holding its annual meetings in Regina.
Item 2: Twenty six years after I gave birth to baby at the Royal University hospital in Saskatoon, there is news from the Saskatoon Health Region that it apologizes for coercing Indigenous women who gave birth in the hospital to be sterilized. Jackie Mann, Vice- President Integrated Health Services of the Health Region apparently “choked back tears” in her apology. One in ten people in the area served by the Royal University Hospital (where most of the births, and then the tubal ligations occurred) are Indigenous. In 2015, the hospital received complaints of forced sterilization, and it commissioned two indigenous specialists, a lawyer and a doctor, to investigate. Their report, External Review: Tubal Ligation in the Saskatoon Health Region: The Lived Experience of Aboriginal Women
Royal University Hospital, Saskatoon– the old building with the maternity wing.
Forced sterilization has a nasty history – especially since eugenics laws were passed in Alberta in 1928, and in BC in 1933. While the law in Saskatchewan was never enacted, the eugenics movement in the 1930s and 40s had a major champion in the CCF’s Tommy Douglas. Hundreds of marginalized people—especially women — including the disabled, minorities and Indigenous people –were sterilized in effect without their knowledge and often without their consent.
Today we know that race is a key determinant of health. As the report notes, “ Some governments imposed policies and laws geared toward sterilizing Aboriginal women who, by virtue of the placement on the Canadian social strata, appeared to be prime candidates for sterilization. In addition to gender bias, it is well documented that systemic discrimination and racism in health care exists. Decades and generations of Aboriginal people affected are accordingly distrustful of this system.” (p. 8)
The interviews in the report provide chilling details of Indigenous women feeling powerless, being bullied and lied to by the medical establishment. One woman said, “What really appalled me – the doctor said, ‘well, you’re tied, cut and burnt; nothing will get through that.’” (p. 19). Another woman remembered, “It feels like, if you go to the doctor to have a broken finger fixed and they cut off your hand to fix the finger problem. I went to have a baby, not a tubal ligation.” (p. 19)
Item 3: Kawliga Potts, from Hobbema, Alberta, was only 3, when Lily Choy — his foster mother – killed him. In Edmonton in 2007 he died from trauma to the head. Choy received a sentence of 8 years for manslaughter. In a fatality inquiry report released in late July, the provincial court judge wrote that Kawliga’s death was “the direct result of the fundamental failure of everyone connected with this child to do their jobs.”
Kawliga was battered, deprived of food, and left to run around an unheated garage in a diaper. Choy had three other foster kids, plus two of her own. Yet five case workers visited Choy’s home, and came and went from his short life. None raised an alarm.