August 28, 2013

Stereotypes unhealthy for Natives

Aboriginal Stereotypes Can Be Deadly

By Craig and Marc KielburgerWhen Jane walked into emergency to make sure her abdominal pains didn't signal problems with her pregnancy, she rubbed at a speck of dirt irritating her eye. The nurses took a look at Jane and leapt to their own conclusion: a pregnant aboriginal teen with reddened eyes? She must be on drugs or abused. They interrogated her and, ignoring her explanations, called for a social worker. It was hours before anyone even looked into her abdominal pains.

When Anne visited a Vancouver Island hospital for a routine pregnancy check-up, a nurse read in her medical record that she was Métis, and saw a notation from years before about a child welfare issue, long since resolved. The nurse immediately called in child welfare. Anne's routine hospital visit turned into a Kafkaesque drama.

Jane and Anne are made-up names, but their stories are real. They are among those gathered by Sara Wolfe, a registered midwife in Toronto, and Dr. Don Wilson, who practices obstetrics and gynaecology in Comox, B.C. and works with First Nations people from across Vancouver Island. Both Wolfe and Wilson are members of Canada's First Nations, and they have helped the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) update guidelines for providing culturally sensitive health care services for aboriginal women.

Wolfe and Wilson have seen many such examples of the unfair stereotypes and cultural misunderstandings that aboriginal women all too often face in Canada's health care system. Most Canadians walking into a hospital or doctor's office would never face what Jane and Anne did.
Comment:  These are typical cases of how Native stereotypes can cause harm and affect lives. We protest them for this reason, not because it feels good to be "politically correct."

For more on the harm of Native stereotyping, see Native Is Prejudiced Against Natives and Mithlo's TEDx Talk on Stereotypes.

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