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Editorial: Sign of racism

The Langevin Block has been renamed the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council.
The Langevin Block has been renamed the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council.

The sign was posted in a doctor’s office in Miramichi, N.B. for all to see: “Attn: Native patients. Please don’t ask for tranquilizers or pain medications.”

The reason for the note is irrelevant. The message is abundantly clear. It was crushing for a First Nations cancer patient who went there looking for pain management.

Was it racist? Yes. Insensitive? Yes. The symptom of a disturbing attitude towards indigenous peoples? Apparently so.

The Eel Ground First Nation rightfully sought an apology because the note labelled the entire aboriginal community as chronic prescription drug abusers. It marginalized one group of people, even though all cultures and communities are plagued with addictions and opioid abuse.

The sign denied certain medications based on race. First Nations people are being stigmatized from seeking medical help.

And the note is a clear indication that many Canadians have a long way to go before the recommendations and goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are achieved.

It was apparently posted after Health Canada sent a letter to the doctor advising caution about a program that funds medications for First Nations residents. But shouldn’t there be a need for caution when prescribing any potentially addictive drug to any Canadian? Are physicians treating some patients differently than others? That’s clear discrimination.

The timing of the story made the incident even more outrageous, less than a week before National Aboriginal Day, June 21, as indigenous people across Canada celebrated their culture, achievements and history.

Our political leaders often stumble their way around indigenous issues.

At a June 19 ceremony in Ottawa honouring First Nations achievers, Gov. Gen. David Johnston suggested that indigenous people were immigrants to Canada, saying, “We’re a country based on immigration, going right back to our indigenous people who were immigrants as well, 10,000, 12,000 14,000 years ago.”

His remarks sparked a firestorm of criticism because the comment reflected a deep-seated, colonial mentality. Johnston apologized soon after.

There are, however, positive signs of change.

On Wednesday, a thorn in the side of many First Nations leaders was removed when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his office building would no longer bear the name of Hector-Louis Langevin, a father of Confederation and an architect of the much-hated “Indian” residential school system.

Trudeau was reacting to concerns from many indigenous communities and acknowledging their deep pain about a building that carries a name so closely associated with the horrors of residential schools.

Trudeau also announced that National Aboriginal Day would now be referred to as the more inclusive National Indigenous Peoples Day.

And Nova Scotia is considering a suggestion that it might be time for a Mi’kmaq seat in the provincial legislature.

These might be baby steps, but they are steps forward as we try to reach the goal of being an inclusive country for all Canadians.

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