"It is designed to do what it is doing"
October 30, 2018 9:54 AM   Subscribe

The health system in Canada’s North is failing — but not by accident.

We turn up Seventh Ave. and park the car beside an institutional-looking cream-coloured low-rise building, boarded up and covered in No Trespassing signs. This is the old Zone Hospital, Mike tells me. He pauses and then says, “This is the Indian hospital.”

posted by poffin boffin (17 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

fta emphasis mine

Duncan Campbell Scott, the superintendent of Indian Affairs, confirmed that he knew the children were dying in record numbers . Still, he refused Bryce’s repeated requests for aid: “It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituation so closely in residential schools and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this does not justify a change in the policy of this Department which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem.” Scott then went on a campaign to undermine Bryce, pulling his funding and attempting to ruin his reputation and career. In 1921, Bryce was forced out of the government.

posted by lalochezia at 10:15 AM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Native populations are poorly served in the North for healthcare where they regularly face racism and the legacy of colonisation. Sadly though health care in general in the North, especially outside the larger centres of Sudbury and Thunder Bay, is often poor for everybody. Especially mental health & elder care services. Multiple governments, provincial & federal, have actively undermined care in the North for decades.

A friend of mine was a bush pilot based out of Sioux Lookout and one of his jobs was to bring people from the reserves to the hospital in town. He has many harrowing stories of bringing pregnant women in or people with odd & poorly explained injuries or kids with bad fevers. He also would deliver buckets of fried chicken to some of the reserves which on the surface is a little funny but if you dig deeper you realise it is because they didn't have much else to eat.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:37 AM on October 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

There has been this ongoing story about kids being airlifted out of the north for medical reasons without a parent allowed to attend them. They keep promising it has been changed (parents now go with over half the time instead of never) but there are always exceptions that this time there were too many doctors aboard already, that time it was just a small plane, etc etc. Apparently there was some possibly unwritten rule that if a caregiver was aboard a flight attendant also had to be.
posted by jeather at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2018

Yeah, here's more on the kids being forced to fly alone situation.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:56 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Holy hell lao, that excerpt is terrifying. How the fuck can you use "final solution" like that and not realize you're a goddamn subhuman monster?! This is one of the most horrifying stories I've ever heard come out of Canada, which is supposed to be the "nice"/"good" North American country.

Gunn sounds like a real hero, helping people in that way takes a big emotional toll.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:05 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Canada, which is supposed to be the "nice"/"good" North American country.

We're really good at branding.
posted by JamesBay at 11:09 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

How the fuck can you use "final solution" like that

Not to excuse the awful things that were done, but that term was used in this context a couple decades before WWII, so wasn't thought of then in the same context as we do now.

Of course, he (and many others) thought "assimilation" would solve the "Indian problem" and didn't care how many people got ground up in the process.

According to Wikipedia:

"As part of their Worst Canadian poll, a panel of experts commissioned by Canada's National History Society named Scott one of the Worst Canadians in the August 2007 issue of The Beaver."
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:22 AM on October 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

The national gestalt is “its not that we’re better, it’s just that we’re less worse” which is not only a bullshit humble brag but also lets us off the psychic hook for improvement. Basically it’s the same classist white suprematism British heritage crap as down South only with less violent slavery and more egregious colonialism.

The saving grace perhaps is that immigration and population change has a chance of racialized progressives eventually simply outnumbering whites. Someday.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:22 AM on October 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Without trying to suggest Canada isn't racist towards First Nations, Metis and Inuit people, I will point out that the "final solution" quote was said some time between 1907 and 1921, well before Hitler. Obviously it meant killing them through lack of health care, but it didn't have the gas chambers connotations.
posted by jeather at 11:23 AM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

How the fuck can you use "final solution" like that and not realize you're a goddamn subhuman monster?!

In their defence, this statement is from the 1920s, 20 years before "Final Solution" became famous as a euphemism for genocide.

Not in their defence: the Canadian government was at the time actively and unabashedly engaged in a program of cultural genocide (killing the culture without - completely - killing all of the people) and would continue with this until 1997 (at least officially). And they didn't particularly care how many Indigenous people died in the meantime.

as for "nice" or "good": depends on your measure. Canada is a better place to be on welfare, to be chronically ill or in need of basic medical care - but a worse place to be someone with a disability who needs accommodation (the ADA is stronger legislation, though our Ontario AODA may compare). I feel that our current government is less xenophobic than the current US government, but this could flip (and I'm very afraid of xenophobic tendencies in Ontario and especially in Quebec).

As for the history of the British and later Canadian governments towards indigenous people: it's complicated, and my best knowledge is what was happening in c1750-1800, not more recently. The British government in Westminster has historically been better for Indigenous people than local governments, whether American or Canadian, because it's easy to offer fair-er (not fair, but fair-er) deals when you aren't coveting their land as immediately. One of the (not talked about) reasons for the American Revolution was anger at Westminster for preventing settlement of the Ohio Valley, etc., to keep it for the first nations. In Canada, many Indigenous communities have also had better relationships with the Crown than with provincial governments.

But the legal status of Indigenous people in the US and in Canada are also very different - I'm not clear on all of the differences, but I know they are significant in how they are recognized as citizens (or not) of the ruling country and as citizens (or not) of their own nations. Maybe someone with a better knowledge can help me by explaining the stuff I've heard but don't really know. Many of the social issues are similar/the same - and aren't at all helped by the dual challenge of providing services to remote communities (always a problem) and the social devastation directly attributable to government policies (in both countries).
posted by jb at 11:26 AM on October 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

Duncan Campbell Scott was a dickhead and we are still struggling with his legacy [PDF] to this day.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:27 AM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I know that many First Nations people specifically do not want to vote in federal elections here because they think it legitimatizes the power the Canadian government claims to have.
posted by jeather at 11:34 AM on October 30, 2018

There is no defense of the usage of the phrase "final solution" to be made as the explicit purpose being described was in fact genocide. The fact that the nazis looked towards north american policy regarding indigenous americans as inspiration for their own genocidal policies regarding jews, lgbt, and roma people should give you a clue about that. Please educate yourselves before making broad dismissive statements.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:51 AM on October 30, 2018 [16 favorites]

Jb's "defence" of the term comes with some pretty big caveats and doesn’t dismiss anything.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:35 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm not from Sioux Lookout, but I am from Dryden, the town just up the highway. It's not mentioned in the article, but for those who aren't familiar w/ the region, for decades Dryden was a regional hub that many who lived in or around Sioux Lookout, or who should be served by Sioux Lookout, turned to instead. I've been to Sioux many times, and know many people who lived/worked there. Absolutely zero things in this piece are shocking if you're from the region or lived there for any amount of time. (The town proper isn't really 5,000 people. For administrative/service reasons it was amalgamated with nearby communities, for certain values of "nearby", and there are often many, many miles of bush between these different amalgamated communities. Sioux proper is probably a little more than 1,000 people.)

Health care in the region is very poor for everyone compared to the standards of southern urban centres, but is definitely even worse for Native people, and as the article makes clear it is the result of a series of interconnected systems built on some combination of racism, classism, and the peculiar structure of Canadian political life that sees all northerners and northern communities as expendable resource colonies (even the political structure of some of the provinces makes this clear; in Ontario, where Sioux is located, the urban south is divided into "counties", which have the right to regional governmental structures that make it easier to pool resources and establish local programs and services, while in the rural north there are "districts" instead, and districts do not have the legal right to establish that layer of local government and service/resource pooling, though the need is often greater--northern communities are forced to rely on the provincial or federal governments for infrastructure, and they will usually only act in response to the needs of industry, to the point that many of the local highways were originally logging roads later taken over by the government from the private companies that built them). The residential school system in particular is a blight not only on Canada as a nation, but on the north in particular. I know many people who are survivors of that system, and that we enacted it in the first place is a crime; that we waited until 1996 to abolish the system entirely is abominable. Nearly everyone I know from the north has friends, relatives, or colleagues who were directly victimized by it (including me).
He also would deliver buckets of fried chicken to some of the reserves which on the surface is a little funny but if you dig deeper you realise it is because they didn't have much else to eat.
The fried chicken thing is more complicated than that, and is tied up in a lot of ways with race and class and so on and actually has very little to do with "didn't have much else to eat" (which is not to say that lack of reasonably priced food and quality food isn't a problem, because it absolutely is). The KFC in Dryden used to have to shut down early on the day the government cheques would come in because there would be a line of First Nations customers out the door and they'd sell out of chicken in a couple of hours (that's not apocryphal, btw, my girlfriend in high school worked there and used to come home early on those days). There were plenty of cheaper and healthier options in town (even cheaper and better fast food options), but fried chicken, KFC in particular, is a thing in the north in a way that is difficult to describe to outsiders. The Bay (the Hudson Bay Company), often positioned as a luxury chain in the south, is a discount retailer in the north, often with a KFC embedded in its most northern locations the same way you get McDonald's in WalMart these days. While descending on KFC on payday is often painted by non-Native northerners in a racist, anti-Native way, it was just as common for non-Native (especially white) families to go to KFC on payday for a "special treat" dinner when I was growing up. The only reason white families didn't get it shipped to them is because *they didn't have to*. I can guarantee there would be KFC for white folks on that airplane if there was an equally isolated community up there that was predominantly white.
posted by Fish Sauce at 7:45 AM on October 31, 2018 [5 favorites]

Thanks for the clarity Fish Sauce on the KFC. My friend who lived in Sioux was a white guy from down south so the nuances of the issues weren't always clear to him when he shared the stories.

I grew up in the North as well - just outside Sudbury and Hornepayne for me. I've had more then one relative die early deaths due to the uneven care they recieved in the North. And yeah the legacy of the residential school system & colonization is very clear to those of us from there so it has always boggled my mind when I came south how few people were aware of these issues until comparatively recently.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:17 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

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