Report into coerced tubal ligation exposes racism in health system
- NC Raine | August 20, 2017
A recent report documenting unwanted tubal ligations in the Saskatoon Health Region has exposed the “inherent racism” ongoing in the province's institutions.
The external report, released on July 27th by two healthcare researchers from Manitoba, detailed trauma suffered by several Indigenous women who were pressured, shortly after childbirth, into tubal litigation – a procedure which involves clamping or severing the fallopian tubes. The report outlined women seeking healthcare in the Saskatoon Healthcare Region (SHR) who felt “invisible, profiled, and powerless.”
One woman shared a story of an unapproved tubal ligation, where a doctor performed the procedure without her consent, telling her after its completion, “you're tied, cut, and burnt; nothing will get through that.”
Representatives from the Saskatoon Health Region issued an apology immediately following the release of the report.
“I'm sorry that you were not treated with the respect, compassion (...) and all of the support that you needed and deserved,” said Jackie Mann, Vice-President of the Integrated Health Services during a press conference. “No woman should be treated the way you were treated.”
“(Tubal ligation) must be free and informed consent – and that wasn't the case in these situations,” added Leann Smith, SHR director of maternal services.
The report has sparked outrage and gained national attention, causing leaders from a wide range of disciplines to speak out against the injustice.
“This is systemic racism and marginalization,” said Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice Chief Heather Bear. “It is simply wrong, and one of the most horrible things I can imagine as a woman. Taking away what the creator has bestowed upon us – our gift as women, the gift of life.”
According to the report, most of the women who underwent the procedure did not know it was permanent, thinking it was only a form of birth control.
The report servers as evidence of the continued racial discrimination perpetrated against Canada's Indigenous women.
“It is a breach of our treaty, our rights to protection,” said Bear. “It's a breach when it comes to our values, customs, traditions, and the teachings of our people. We have to put an end to this.”
A Saskatoon woman has since considered filing a lawsuit against SHR, stating she was sterilized against her will in 2008.
The researchers responsible for the report believe a national review is required to determine if other Indigenous women have experienced similar trauma.
Gabe Lafond, SHR director of First Nation and Métis health services, says that there are trust issues in some individuals seeking access to healthcare, and policies need to be improved.
“Part of the action-plan going forward is to work with women, community leaders, First Nation workforces to look at policy we currently have in place,” said Lafond. “What was suggested is that we work with the community to look at enacting that policy to make it more culturally safe, competent, and reflective of the Indigenous voice and population.”
The report presented several recommendations, including mandatory cultural training, advisory council, policy revision, a reproductive centre for vulnerable women, to name a few. The report also calls for “adequate funding and support” for provincial restructuring of health services to Indigenous people.
But the impact of systemic discrimination will certainly linger, and as such, both Lafond and Bear have support and advice for any impacted or concerned individuals.
“Please have the courage, if there are any concerns, to come forward and share those stories,” says Lafond. “Without the healthcare professionals knowing what those concerns are, it's difficult to respond to any concerns pertaining to individual or community care.”
“Know your rights. No one has the right to tell you how many children to have or whether or not to have children,” says Bear. “We need to turn to our traditions and cultures, and we need to heal. Enough is enough. You have your rights.”