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FSIN opens health watchdog office to investigate Indigenous maltreatment

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is adding a health ombudsman office to rectify what leaders call decades of mistreatment within the provincial healthcare system.

New ombudsperson Dianne Lafond understands the issues Indigenous people face when seeking treatment.

Her 29-year-old son nearly died recently due to liver failure, and nearly every step of the way she was told her son, who she says is not a "drinker," was not eligible for a liver transplant due to his alcoholism.

"Your son was a drunk,'" Lafond said, quoting what doctors told her as her son clung to life.

"(It) broke my heart. Why do we have to fight these unnecessary fights?"

Lafond says it wasn't until doctors discovered a long-undetected liver disease that he was recommended for a transplant and quickly flown to Edmonton for surgery.

He underwent a successful liver transplant this past winter and is recovering, according to Lafond.

"He was born with a gene, a diseased liver," she said. "The stereotype and the stigma surrounding that is all tied to alcoholism. How many of them passed away and it wasn't alcoholism?"

Lafond and her office will work closely with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, first responders, pharmacists and other stakeholders to investigate, and advocate for the quality and accessibility of health care for Indigenous communities.

She didn't say how many people would work under her, but there is an associate ombudsman in Regina, and many other people working on health portfolios at First Nations across the province who will work with her office.

Lafond says her son would have died if she wasn't able to advocate for him.

Now, her office will try to prevent similar stories from ever happening again.

"We've got to acknowledge that there is systemic racism within the healthcare system," Lafond said.

Dr. Veronica McKinney, the chair of the Indigenous health committee at the University of Saskatchewan's medical school, says an independent Indigenous health ombudsman has been in the making for a long time.

She spoke of epidemics facing Indigenous communities, historical Indian hospitals, experimentation and claims of forced sterilization without proper and informed consent as examples of "the trauma that people experience."

"We all have people that we know, if not ourselves," she said. "How many people have suffered?"

Another effort of Lafond's will be to ensure Indigenous culture and ceremony and traditional learnings are accessible within Saskatchewan's healthcare facilities.

Alana Ross, the MLA for Prince Albert Northcote, said the province will work with Lafond to "establish and strengthen" culturally and responsive spaces for Indigenous people accessing healthcare in the province.

"Today's grand opening is a culmination of an incredible amount of work on behalf of so many in this community," she said. "We look forward to working with the First Nations health ombudsperson to improve healthcare for everyone in our province."

Prior to the grand opening, Lafond has been working as the health ombudsman since July.

"We deserve good healthcare," Lafond said. "We're not asking for anything more than the average person receives." Top Stories


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