A report from the Health Council of Canada suggests that aboriginal Canadians in urban areas often feel powerless and frustrated when trying to navigate the health-care system, due to frequently facing racism and stereotyping.
Catherine Cook, who is Metis and a councillor with the Health Council of Canada, said many aboriginal patients the council spoke with described feelings of distrust towards the health-care system due to past experiences with racism.
"We also heard stories of people’s feelings of discomfort, powerlessness and fear when trying to use the health-care system. Others avoided using the healthcare system even when sick," said Cook, speaking Tuesday at the Bannatyne Campus of University of Manitoba.
Cook cited an example of one patient who described being denied painkillers, despite being in severe pain, because the health-care worker believed that aboriginal Canadians were more susceptible to becoming addicted.
"That is just an example of how people have perceptions or stereotypes of aboriginal people so they make a decision based on that," Cook said.
"If a health-care provider has heard somewhere or believes that aboriginal people are more easily going to become addicted for whatever reason, then they would withhold those drugs because they don’t want them to become addicted. But the same time, they haven’t figured out how to address the need to control their pain."
Cook, who also serves as vice-president of population and aboriginal health for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said she could not speak to specific examples. But she said she is aware of aboriginal patients in Winnipeg raising complaints about been treated unfairly by health-care workers based on race.
"It’s always an opportunity for providing awareness and education on both sides. So we’ve been able to support the providers and the patients in those situations," she said.
In their report the Health Council of Canada called for improved "cultural competency" in health care for aboriginal peoples, by creating an environment that is free of racism and stereotypes and more sensitive to the cultural needs of aboriginal peoples.