Manitoba’s physicians college apologizes for current and past racism against Indigenous people

The college that regulates Manitoba’s physicians is apologizing for its current and historical failure to respond to Indigenous-specific racism in the medical profession.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba (CPSM) said its responsibility also extends to the racist actions and inactions perpetuated by physicians, residents, medical students, clinical assistants and physician assistants. 

“We accept this responsibility, and we apologize,” said the statement, which was delivered by college representatives at the Special Chiefs Assembly on Health Legislation, hosted by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, on Tuesday. 

“CPSM apologizes to First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, families, and elders for the racism that has occurred in their medical care, whether it was in the care they received, or should have received but did not. We apologize for the intergenerational trauma, suffering, poor health outcomes, and death that this has caused.”

The college pledged to take action. It said it would support and guide medical professionals to recognize and call out acts of racism against Indigenous persons. 

Action needs to follow words: college

It also stated that a pledge to stamp out racism wouldn’t be enough.

“Recognizing racism in ourselves will neither be comfortable nor easy. We will ask and intend to be guided by Indigenous physicians, scholars, elders, and knowledge keepers along with the legal and ethical requirements to provide respect, dignity, and equitable health care for Indigenous persons in Manitoba.”

The apology comes four months after Indigenous leaders and politicians signed a declaration to eradicate anti-Indigenous racism in northern Manitoba’s health-care system.

The college regulating Manitoba’s physicians began working in 2021 to address the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The apology is one action the college is taking as a result of those deliberations, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a statement issued late Tuesday.

Cathy Merrick, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, speaks at a ceremony.
In a statement, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said the apology from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba has left her with ‘cautious optimism’ that the organization will work to stamp out Indigenous-specific racism. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

AMC Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said she appreciates the college’s registrar for recognizing the mistakes of the past and present. 

“We think of the many First Nations patients who have experienced racism and discrimination in medical practice, some of who lost their lives in the health care system and know that we have to collectively address this on many levels,” Merrick said in AMC’s statement.

“I walk away with cautious optimism until I hear and feel from our people the changes you promise here today.”

In its apology, the college acknowledged “historical failures,” such as racially segregating Indigenous patients and failing to step in when they “knew or ought to have known” that Indigenous children were abused at residential schools.

The apology also cited a number of current examples of racism, including the failure to recognize traditional Indigenous health-care practices, derogatory comments against Indigenous persons and advancing stereotypical perceptions of alcohol and illicit drug consumption.

The regulatory body is committing to developing a standard of practice to prevent Indigenous racism and requiring all registrants to participate in Indigenous cultural safety and anti-racism training, the statement said.

The college “understands that the receipt of this apology may invoke various responses from Indigenous persons including doubt, apprehension, and acceptance.

“The work starts now,” the apology reads in closing.

AMC and the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba said it would work with the college to support its pledges.

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