It is with profound sorrow that the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) extends their condolences to the family of Heather Winterstein. Heather passed away on Friday, December 10, after repeated attempts to access treatment from the Niagara health care system. Her untimely death is a tragedy and leaves us with the unsettling question, “Why do so many Indigenous people across health care systems, across our provinces, and across this country continue to experience inferior health care?”
Following concerns raised by family members and leaders of the local Indigenous community, Niagara Health announced that it will be conducting an internal investigation into Heather’s death. The OFIFC is unequivocal in its support for, and insistence on, a critical interrogation of the care Heather received and, at a systemic level, on the ongoing incidence of anti-Indigenous bias, racism, and discrimination which persistently interfere with the quality of health care for Indigenous people. However, this is not an isolated situation, and the OFIFC equally calls upon the provincial government to engage in a rigorous, transparent and accountable examination of the provincial health system and systemic practices which negatively affect the lives of Indigenous people on a daily basis.
Clearly, there is much work to be done to render health systems and organizations safe for Indigenous people. A perspective on reconciliation that is grounded in humility, transparency, and respect for the rights of Indigenous people as set out UNDRIP, the TRC Calls to Action, the MMIWG Calls to Justice and current human rights legislation will not bring back the people we have lost to discrimination in health care. But it would be a good place to start a review of what takes place behind closed hospital and clinic doors to prevent further harm.