Montreal Urban Aboriginal Health Centre Moving Forward

Community Members Push to See More From Canadian Government

From left: Carrie Martin, Denis Coderre and Pascale Annoual on Wednesday, Jan. 25. Courtesy MUAHC

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre jump-started a conversation on Wednesday by asking the board of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Health Centre to stop collecting signatures on a petition—they were calling for a public consultation about finding a suitable building for the centre.

This effectively began their consultation a month before their petition’s deadline. The signing period began Nov. 28, 2016 with the intention of collecting 15,000 signatures before Feb. 25. MUAHC’s board is very pleased with the decision to skip the petition process and begin dialogue with Coderre and his cabinet.

While more than twelve Canadian cities have Indigenous health centres, Montreal, Canada’s second largest city, does not.

The Quebec Medicare system is failing to accommodate Montreal’s urban Indigenous population and their special needs for holistic healing practices, MUAHC board member Pascale Annoual explained.

“Being holistic is beyond the bio-psychosocial model,” Annoual said. Language barriers have created complications for Indigenous people seeking medical attention that works for them. “It’s being done nationally so for Quebec, we just need a first [step].”

A 2015 survey found that Inuit, First Nation and Métis account for ten per cent of Montreal’s homeless population, despite making up only 0.6 per cent of the city’s total population.

During a peaceful protest for Indigenous, LGBTQ and women’s rights on Jan. 21, Annoual said, “It’s about the rights to health, the rights to proper access and the right to having all services under one roof.”

Annoual works as an art-ethno therapist at Arts, Racines & Therapies in Ville Saint-Laurent. The MUAHC committee strives to provide a space for off-reserve Indigenous people seeking medical attention.

Indigenous communities are affected by certain illnesses at a different rate than other Canadian populations, for a variety of reasons. Accounting for less than four per cent of Canada’s population, they make up eight per cent of HIV cases in the country and 12.5 per cent of new infections. The risk of developing Tuberculosis is more than 25 times higher, and they also see the highest rate of diabetes, infant and child morbidity and suicide.

While speaking with Annoual, a friend of hers named Jeannie Sappa joined the conversation, asking for her story to be told.

“It’s always been a problem,” said Sappa, an Inuit woman from Northern Quebec who has survived domestic abuse.

Sappa opened up about her experience of not knowing any better, of not knowing her history—why her grandparents had been relocated or why her brother was sent to residential school by the Canadian government.

She wants her story to be heard by those who are still living in abusive relationships. “Isolation causes suffering,” said Sappa. “There’s been enough of that, the suffering.”

“Isolation causes suffering. There’s been enough of that, the suffering.” – Jeannie Sappa

The abuse started at a young age for Sappa in a community where the residential schools have left a legacy of unimaginable crimes against the Indigenous students and their families. Life hasn’t always been easy for her, she explained.

“I’ve always treated men bigger—bigger than life, bigger than god, bigger than the universe,” she said. “That’s how I grew up because I thought violence was normal.”

“The educational system caused the problem, we need to look at what it can do to pull away from it,” said Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Murray Sinclair in a video on their website.

The TRC aims to close gaps that the Canadian government left for its Indigenous population. The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, beginning in 2007, would award $3 billion to 86,000 Indigenous Canadians who were removed from their families and placed in residential schools. It is the largest settlement in Canadian history.

Written in 2012 and completed in December 2015, the commission contains 94 Calls to Action in regards to child welfare, education, language, culture, justice and health. The six health-based Calls to Action include establishing measurable goals, addressing distinct health needs, recognizing Indigenous healing practice value, increasing Indigenous professionals in healthcare and requiring medical students to take a course on Indigenous health.

Notably, it also includes creating sustainable funding for new healing centers.

Annoual said the MUAHC will hopefully provide a solution to the problem. Reconciliation, an Indigenous position in the mayor’s cabinet and a site for the MUAHC were also discussed.

His actions coincide with his recent announcement of appointing an Indigenous position within his cabinet if re-elected in November during the next municipal elections. With no Indigenous officials currently on council, opposition party Projet Montreal told the Montreal Gazette that 40 per cent of its candidates will belong to ethnic minority groups come election time.

Sinclair, in the same video, acknowledged that taking these steps is moving towards repairing the relationship between the Canadian government and the nation’s Indigenous communities.

“Reconciliation will be about ensuring that everything that we do today is aimed at that high standard of restoring the balance to that relationship.”