It’s amazing the type of impact that one piece of artwork can have on society as a whole. 

They say art soothes the soul and brings people together. Well, just look at the new mural at the entrance to Invermere hospital’s emergency department and what it signifies. It’s an Indigenous greeting in traditional Ktunaxa and Secwepemctsin languages that goes far beyond a simple welcome; it addresses systemic racism and reconciliation.

Some people may be getting tired of hearing the word reconciliation and wonder if it will ever go away. But how tired do you think Indigenous Peoples have been on the receiving end of colonialism and oppression for hundreds of years? Did it ever go away? It’s still very much prevalent today. In fact, Indigenous racism continues to plague health care settings, which is quite shameful when you consider the profession and the compassion that it supposedly represents.

Racism against Indigenous Peoples in health care facilities has a direct correlation to their physical and mental well-being. 

A 2020 report (In Plain Sight) by Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond detailed Indigenous-specific racism in the BC health care system. She noted this “disturbing” trend is widespread and can lead to harm and even death.

Some of the Indigenous survey responses included: always assumed they are drunk, always treated as dishonest, and never treated like their cultural traditions are appreciated.

In one case cited in the report, an Indigenous woman who underwent surgery said she was dry heaving in the recovery room when a nurse yelled: “You’re going through withdrawal; it’s from all the alcohol you people drink; you’ll have to wait for your booze.”

This experience left the woman so fearful of hospitals that she planned to refuse any future surgeries.

Another Indigenous woman said she is afraid to go to any hospital. “When I do have to, I dress up like I’m going to church [in order to receive proper treatment]. It’s ridiculous.”

An obstetrician told the review about a First Nations woman with a history of trauma and sexual assault. The woman had to attend a hospital to have a C-section. Prior to the procedure, the obstetrician witnessed an anesthesiologist manhandling the woman and later commenting: “People like her should be sterilized.”

Even an Indigenous physician reported that he had been asked to look after his “drunk relatives” in the emergency room.

After reading this dreadful report, what a breath of fresh air to see the mural in our local hospital, courtesy of Indigenous artist Darcy Luke/Roshau with the support of Dr. JoyAnne Krupa.

Hopefully, the mural will go a long way in reconciling the atrocities of the past and regaining trust in the health care system.

Lyonel Doherty, editor