UBC Medicine launches response to TRC Call to Action, apologizes for harm caused to Indigenous people

UBC Medicine issued a formal apology to Indigenous people and launched its response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action 18 through 24 at a webinar event Friday afternoon.

Friday’s event, UBC Faculty of Medicine's Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Calls to Action, was used to announce UBC Medicine’s future steps to support and empower Indigenous people in health care, and centred heavily on reconciliation.

The event comes after Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, an Allard law professor and director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, released her In Plain Sight report last December that detailed numerous instances of anti-Indigenous racism in the BC health care system, as well as the recent discovery of undocumented children remains at residential schools across Canada. Both topics were frequently referenced throughout the speakers’ speeches.

Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot gave a sobering statement about the closeness of these residential schools and other colonial systems to modern times.

“Let's think about the year 1996. That's when the last residential school actually closed in this country,” she said. “In pop culture, the Backstreet Boys were in the Top 40 and Friends was a hit TV series.”

President Santa Ono, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UBC's Okanagan campus Lesley Cormack and Dean of Medicine and VP Health Dermot Kelleher emphasized the importance of acknowledging the role the faculty of medicine has played in perpetuating the systematic mistreatment of Indigenous people.

“This is a widespread failure of a health care system, rooted in colonialism, and responsibility for this failure also extends to institutions including UBC, who perpetrated the methodologies and teachings that contributed to an equitable system of care,” Cormack said.

Kelleher also gave an apology for the harm caused to Indigenous people by UBC Medicine.

“As the university has done before us, we formally apologize to all those affected for the role the faculty of medicine has played in causing and perpetuating these systems and resulting in persisting damage done by them,” he said.

Kelleher outlined several actions that the faculty will take to rectify its past, including expanding the UBC 23 24 Indigenous cultural safety training program and hiring more Indigenous people for faculty and senior leadership roles, among others.

UBC Chancellor Steven Point thanked Kelleher and UBC Medicine for taking the time to draft a well-thought out response to the TRC’s Calls to Action, but said that more should be done.

“Indigenizing a university is a step forward, but it cannot and must not be the only thing we do,” he said.

‘Essential to lifting the burden of teaching from the students’ shoulders’

Dr. Rebekah Eatmon led a panel featuring Indigenous UBC students, faculty and staff on how UBC Medicine currently supports Indigenous people and what needs to be done in the future.

Both Medical Director for Primary Care for First Nations Health Dr. Terri Aldred and UBC Medicine’s Indigenous Student Initiatives Manager James Andrew stressed the importance of hiring and recruiting Indigenous faculty and students. Aldred noted that having more Indigenous representation creates a supportive community for all.

“Having a safe place for people to gather, including for learners but also for faculty members, is another way that can help create support,” she said.

Co-Director of UBC Medicine’s Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health Dr. Nadine Caron praised the existing Indigenous health-related curriculum currently offered, but said that the BC government needed to “commit to enable [UBC Medicine]” to expand this curricula even further.

Celine Hounjet, a current UBC Medicine student, added that adding more relevant courses would ease the burden placed on Indigenous students to act as educators of their culture.

“The creation of courses like the 23 24 curriculum … is essential to lifting the burden of teaching from the students’ shoulders which allows for students to engage with the material in a learner role again,” she said.

For those looking for support right now, call the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1.866.925.4419.