First Indigenous CMA president commits to apology for medical harms

Canadian Medical Association President Dr. Alika Lafontaine.

By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(ANNews) – The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has begun the process of apologizing to First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities for the harms done to them by the Canadian medical system in the past and present, its first Indigenous president says. 

“Today, we formally recognize that the deep trust that should exist between health providers and Indigenous patients, families and communities continues to be damaged by racism, inequitable access, and ongoing harm from people and institutions within our health systems,” reads a June 13 statement from CMA president Dr. Alika Lafontaine. 

Before a formal apology occurs, the CMA intends to conduct an “honest examination” of its history, which “will require many uncomfortable and painful conversations,” Lafontaine explained. 

In order for the apology to be sincere, it must involve “building on aggregated moments towards an end goal of re-discovering each other and rebuilding trust between providers and Indigenous patients, families and communities,” he wrote.

“The profession’s history is Canada’s history,” Lafontaine added. “It includes the devastating impacts of Indian hospitals, forced medical experimentation on Indigenous Peoples, disparate infrastructure investment, as well as systemic racism, neglect and abuse.”

The impact of these abuses continue today, Lafontaine emphasized. 

In an interview with Global News, the CMA president said the medical abuses faced by Indigenous patients has long been common knowledge, particularly in Indigenous communities themselves. 

“There’s a lot of stories out there that haven’t made their way into the news that I think people within communities talk to each other about and really form a basis for a lot of the mistrust that people have when they go to the health-care system,” Lafontaine explained. 

Northern Medical Services executive director Veronica McKinney told Global that the CMA’s gesture is an important first step. 

“I think it’s through some of these processes that we will see some change in it,” said McKinney. “It feels like it’s slow in coming … but I really am encouraged to see that there is some change and that we’re seeing more Indigenous people in leadership that I believe are helping to incite that change. And that’s a wonderful thing for everybody.”

The apology should occur at some point next year, Global reported. 

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