November 7, 2017
Story by Terry Bullick
The head of Alberta Health Services visited the Kainai Nation on Nov. 6 to apologize for a racial slur incident involving two AHS employees last summer.
AHS President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu called the incident “a low point in AHS history” and emphasized the employees are no longer with the organization. Dr. Yiu apologized immediately after the incident but said organizational leaders needed to visit the Kainai Nation in southern Alberta to offer an apology in person.
“As the leader of the healthcare system in Alberta, I take full responsibility and ownership for what happened,” Dr. Yiu told an assembly at Kainai High School.
“It hurt me to hear of what our staff had done. That people were capable in thinking of others in those offensive terms… We know how hurtful these words are to Indigenous Peoples inside and outside of our organization.”
Dr. Yiu extended an apology to Ramona Big Head, the principal of Tatsikiisaapo'p Middle School in Stand Off, as well as to the Kainai Board of Education and the Blood Tribe Nation, all of whom were represented at the assembly along with students from the school.
“For the first time in a long time, I don’t know what to say,” Ramona said of Yiu’s apology.
The principal was the target of the racial slur.
“I was very proud of AHS when you realized how important it was to act (this past summer). It made me feel like I mattered and I was somebody,” Ramona added.
Also attending the assembly on behalf of AHS were vice presidents Todd Gilchrist (People, Legal & Privacy), Dr. Kathryn Todd (Research, Innovation & Analytics) and Colleen Turner (Community Engagement & Communications). Other AHS staff included Katherine Chubbs and Dr. Jack Regehr, the leadership team in the South Zone of AHS, and Harley Crowshoe, a senior advisor with the AHS Indigenous Health Program.
Dr. Yiu said all the apologies in the world “cannot ease the sting” of the injuries caused by hurtful words.
“I personally know this to be true,” she said, recounting her experiences of coming from Hong Kong to Canada in 1968. “I remember getting taunts from other kids. I would just shrug it off like water off a duck’s back. The taunts hurt yet I tried not to let them get to me. But I never forgot how they made me feel.”
Dr. Yiu assured the audience AHS would review patient concerns processes and look at using an approach to restitution that’s inclusive of Indigenous Peoples. She also presented a blanket to Ramona “to mark what I hope is a day of new beginnings between AHS and our province’s Indigenous Peoples.”