First Nations and Rocky Mountain House leaders investigate accusations of racism

by Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(ANNews) – Earlier this month, an Indigenous man from O’Chiese First Nation was denied medical service for his mother who was believed to be having a heart attack.

In a video posted to Facebook, Sonni Strawberrii is seen being denied medical attention from an EMS ambulance while his mother is unconscious in the passenger seat of his car.

The paramedics in the ambulance can be heard saying that the vehicle was “out of service.”

Luckily, Strawberrii found an ambulance that did help and his mother recovered the next day in hospital.

The Lakeside EMS released a statement trying to explain the incident, “The paramedic in the first encounter was returning an ambulance following repairs. The ambulance was not equipped with all of its medical equipment or medications and was due to be restocked. When the paramedic referenced the ambulance as ‘out of service,’ that is what was being referred to.”

However, despite the explanation, this incident sparked a huge reaction from nearby First Nations with many believing it to be a blatant example of Indigenous discrimination.

The Chiefs and Councils of O’Chiese First Nation and Sunchild First Nation met with the Town of Rocky Mountain House to discuss the systemic racism being face by the Nations from the Healthcare system and to seek accountability.

The three communities have even called for a meeting with Minister of Health Tyler Shandro and Alberta Health Services to respond to the incident.

“We recognize our important role as allies in working with and for our First Nation partners in eradicating racism at all levels,” said Rocky Mountain House Mayor, Tammy Burke.

“We understand we will not be able to move our community forward as long as our Indigenous residents and neighbours are discriminated against.”

Furthermore, the Big Horn First Nation, members from Rocky Mountain House, Sunchild and O’Chiese First Nations have created an anti-racism task force to spread racism education and cultural awareness.

“It’s time we open our eyes and deal with racism in Rocky,” said O’Chiese First Nation Chief Douglas Beaverbones. “The three Nations and Town of Rocky leadership are teaming up to deal with the issues the nations are facing.”

The incident has also generated a response from Assembly of First Nations Alberta Regional Chief Marlene Poitras, “There is grave concern for the policies and practices of EMS regarding Indigenous Peoples in Alberta. These incidents are unacceptable and unbecoming of healthcare professionals.”

“First Nations peoples still face stigma and embarrassment when trying to access healthcare at hospitals due to the ongoing and historical ways they have been treated by those who are supposed to help… This sadly, will not be the last experience of racism in Alberta’s healthcare facilities, but it does shine a light on the steps that can be taken to correct long standing issues and ensure that the next time a similar situation occurs, it doest not end in tragedy, as this one almost did.”

The Regional Chief announced that she would be requesting a meeting with Minister Shandro on behalf of the Nations. “We look forward to our meeting with him in the coming weeks and hope that this discussion can lead towards positive healthcare reform for First Nations in Alberta.”

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