Sunday, January 05, 2014

Disabled, poor and Aboriginal shouldn't be a lethal combination

An inquest examining the death of a man during a 34-hour wait in a Winnipeg hospital emergency room has seen video of Brian Sinclair's final hours languishing in a waiting room.
I hadn't realized before this that Brian Sinclair was Aboriginal, as well as being disabled and poor.
It was a lethal combination --  Sinclair sat in his wheelchair in a hospital emergency waiting room for 34 hours dying due to a blocked catheter.
It happened in Winnipeg, but it could have happened in any prairie province.
The Globe and Mail article provides us with an update on the inquest into his death. And even in this article, his race is minimized, mentioned only at the end.
In prior articles, which described how other patients tried to get help for him, his race isn't mentioned at all.
Even the most recent Globe article begins with the usual complaints about emergency wait times and short staffing, as though this accounted for the neglect that Sinclair endured.  It is only at the end of that article that we find out that Sinclair was not just disabled and poor, but also Aboriginal.
It was a death sentence:
Marcel Balfour, acting executive director with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said it would be a missed opportunity if the inquest were not to address the role Mr. Sinclair’s race, social status and disability played in his treatment. Although Sinclair’s case is extreme, Balfour said the organization has heard similar complaints from other aboriginal people seeking medical care.
“That intersection of race, poverty and disability, I think, really needs to be examined,” he said.
Emily Hill, lawyer for Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, which has standing at the inquest, said numerous hospital employees have testified they worked 12-hour shifts in the emergency room but didn’t see Sinclair. She said the inquest needs to delve into why the double amputee, who was partially blocking an aisle in the emergency room, was so invisible.
The answer may lie in the negative stereotypes of aboriginal people that are “deeply rooted in Canadian society,” she said.
“As a result, there is discrimination,” Mr. Hill said.“What aboriginal people experience in the health-care system, in the justice system, in the education system — in all kinds of places where Canadian society is reflected — is that extension of systemic racism.”
Yes, exactly.
We minimize, neglect, ignore and assume the worst about Aboriginal people all the time.
"I'm not racist" is the phrase you hear all of us saying across the Prairies all the time.  But all that means is we don't wear pointy hoods and burn crosses.
In reality, we don't understand what racism actually is, we don't realize how racist we ourselves actually are, and we certainly don't acknowledge how pervasive it is across our part of the world.
I remember this great clip from the great movie, Smoke Signals, where Thomas describes how his dad was found guilty of "being an Indian in the 20th Century".  That's all it takes:

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