In an endeavor to rectify generations of ill-treatment within the provincial healthcare system, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) has initiated a health ombudsman office. Leading this vanguard for justice is the new ombudsperson, Dianne Lafond, who is starkly familiar with the challenges Indigenous individuals confront when seeking medical care.
Lafond’s harrowing personal experiences motivated her in this mission. Her 29-year-old son nearly lost his life to liver failure, during which the besetting prejudices within the system became clear. Medical practitioners wrongly assumed his condition as a result of alcoholism and unjustly disqualified him for a liver transplant. Lafond quotes the insensitivity she faced, “Your son was a drunk,” crushing her spirit.
It took a belated diagnosis of an unidentified liver disease for the transplant process to initiate. Her son was swiftly dispatched to Edmonton for surgery. He underwent the transplant successfully last winter and is currently on the path to recovery. “He was born with a diseased liver gene,” Lafond reveals, shedding light on the deep-rooted stereotype and stigma linking liver disease exclusively to alcoholism.
Lafond, with her office, aims to work in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, pharmacists, first responders, and other stakeholders. Their collective goal is to probe into, and advocate for improved, quality of healthcare accessible to Indigenous communities.
Although Lafond did not specify the number of individuals under her wing, she reassured that an associate ombudsman based in Regina, along with several others across First Nations working on health-related portfolios, would lend their concerted efforts. Lafond starkly states her son’s survival wouldn’t have been possible had she not advocated for him. Her newfound mandate will be to prevent similar stories from reoccurring.
“There exists systemic racism within the healthcare system,” Lafond confesses, opening up about her office’s efforts to annihilate such prejudice from the system.
Dr. Veronica McKinney, the chair of the Indigenous Health Committee at the University of Saskatchewan’s Medical School, echoes a similar sentiment of the long-awaited establishment of such an independent Indigenous health ombudsman. Critically acknowledging historical atrocities faced by Indigenous communities, she highlights the forced experiments, sterilization, and invasive authority faced by these communities, labeling it as “the trauma that people experience.”
In addition to advocating for quality healthcare services, Lafond aims to introduce and strengthen accessible Indigenous cultural, ceremonial, and traditional learning within Saskatchewan’s healthcare facilities.
The province will extend support in this endeavor, as expressed by Alana Ross, the MLA for Prince Albert Northcote. “We anticipate working with the First Nations Health Ombudsman to enhance healthcare for everyone in our province,” she stated.
Ahead of the grand opening, Lafond has been diligently performing the duties of the health ombudsman since July, reinforcing the importance of accessible healthcare services. “We’re not asking for anything more than the average person receives,” says Lafond, “We deserve good healthcare.”