I am here to speak on behalf of Siksika Nation, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy and Treaty 7 in Alberta. We have grave concerns over the implications of Bill C7 on our Indigenous community.
The expansion of “Medical Assistance in Dying” (MAiD) beyond those whose death is foreseeable will have a lasting effect on the Indigenous populations in Canada, who suffer from greater health inequalities than non-Indigenous peoples in areas of life expectancy, rates of chronic diseases, disabilities, mental illness, chronic pain, and access to health services. Indigenous peoples also experience higher rates of poverty, food insecurity, and unemployment – all negative social determinants of health.
Let us be clear: MAiD, with its administration of a lethal substance with the intent to end a person’s life, is counter-cultural to our Indigenous culture and practices. Our concept of health and wellness does not include the intentional ending of one’s life. We recognize the dignity of life from its beginnings to natural death, and efforts to suggest to our people that MAiD is an appropriate end to life is a form of neo-colonialism. Extraordinary efforts have been made in suicide prevention in our communities, and the expansion of MAiD sends a contradictory message to our peoples that some individuals should receive suicide prevention, while others suicide assistance. Our consistent message to our youth has been that suicide is not the answer to the difficulties and challenges we face as a people. Bill C7 sends a conflicting message in direct opposition to ours.
Another grave concern for Bill C7 in its current form is the absence of protection for individuals working in our communities who do not wish to participate in MAiD. We believe that our people should not be coerced to participate in non-Indigenous practices against our conscience and will, and it is this kind of oppression that has been the source of much trauma in our history. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada calls upon those who can effect change within the Canadian health care system to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices, and for respecting Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination in spiritual matters, including the right to practise our own traditions and customs. Bill C7 should be amended such that those who opt to abstain from participating in MAiD, directly and indirectly, will be protected to do so without discrimination in their employment and in the health care system.We are a resilient people, and will continue to advocate for the health and wellness of our community, as well as the right to self-determination in exercising our cultural practices and traditions.
Tyler White is the Corporate Executive Officer of Siksika Health Services, and President of the First Nations Health Consortium. With more than 20 years of experience in First Nations Health Care, Tyler has worked extensively with all levels of government, frontline workers, and industry partners to enhance the coordination of health care and service delivery in Treaty 7 and beyond. Tyler was a significant, contributing member of the Alberta government’s Valuing Mental Health review committee, and he co-chaired the Joint Action Health Planfor the Alberta Region. Tyler has served as an analyst, negotiator and manager for the Siksika Indian Self-Government Process, Executive Director for the Calgary Indian Friendship Centre, and with the Siksika Health and Wellness Centre.
A past winner of the First Nations Health Manager’s Award of Excellence, Tyler is highly respected for his ability to collaborate, innovate, and build relationships across organizations and governments. Above all, Tyler is committed to strengthening and advocating for the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people and communities in Alberta.