Breaking the Stigma

Cornell Pashe

Indigenous Community Coordinator

Portage Urban Indigenous People’s Coalition

A heart attack that occurs when the left anterior descending (LAD) artery is blocked has a scary name – it’s called a widowmaker.

Darryl Taylor suffered this type of heart attack several years ago, and has been recovering ever since. So when he felt similar symptoms coming on one day in February, he thought he was going into cardiac arrest.

His partner called the hospital and said they were on their way to the ER. “And when we got to the hospital, my girlfriend ran in and she said, he’s here now,” he recalls. “And I was told ‘you need to sit down and wait.’”

Taylor noticed other patients being seen who appeared to be “walking and healthy” as he was being disregarded, even though he was in obvious distress. “Maybe they thought I was a drunk Indigenous man,” he says. “So, I told my partner to drive me back to the house and we’ll phone the ambulance to pick me up. Because then we know for sure that they’re going to see me.”

“The ambulance came and picked me up and took me in, and they were able to see me right away.”

Taylor shared his story during a recent Circle for Reconciliation meeting where the theme was “Dispelling the Misconceptions of Indigenous People”. The non-Indigenous participants in the circle were shocked and saddened to hear about his experience.

For Taylor, despite being stuck with an ambulance bill, he is relieved to report he wasn’t suffering another heart attack. An inner ear infection was causing his symptoms, which has now been cleared up. “So, I’m actually very happy today for the first time in so long,” he says.

At the same time, his experience during his health scare has made him even more focused on what local employers need to do to avoid these types of situations – educate. “There’s a lack of sensitivity training in the workforce, and those things need to be instilled,” Taylor says.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Call to Action No. 57 recommends professional development and training for workplaces on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools.

Residential school survivors and their descendants not only continue to suffer trauma from their experiences; they also face additional challenges due to racism and mainstream society’s perception that Indigenous people receive “entitlements.”

For example, many Canadians are under the mistaken belief that First Nations people receive free post-secondary education. That’s simply not true.

Much like the myth that First Nations don’t pay taxes, only “status Indians” – or people recognized by the federal government as “Indian” – are eligible to receive funding for post-secondary education. Non-status, Inuit and Metis people don’t qualify.

That leaves about 30 per cent of First Nations people who are actually eligible for education funding. And while First Nations bands receive education funding from the federal government, it usually falls far short of what’s needed for the numbers of applicants requesting funding, resulting in long wait lists and restricted access.

So, although post-secondary education is a treaty right, it’s actually only attainable for a small percentage of Indigenous people.

The only way to eradicate these myths, according to Taylor, is to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together. “Think about any corporations or any boards that are out there, how many indigenous do you have on your board?” Taylor asks.

Taylor has seen first-hand how working together can impact corporate behaviour. As an environmental monitor with Manitoba Hydro, he shares lessons about respecting the land, the water, the animals, and the plants. As a result, “I’ve actually changed the way the corporation engages the Indigenous people,” he explains. (His work is featured in a short video located on Manitoba Hydro’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3KSgt_Hdms.)

Only by getting to know our First Nations neighbours will those myths and assumptions be eliminated. Taylor would like to see more advertising about the Indigenous, as well as community sessions and workshops about Indigenous culture where non-Indigenous people can learn the facts.

He would also like to see non-Indigenous people tour a First Nation and get to know their Indigenous neighbours, so that they leave with a different perspective.

Taylor certainly has a different perspective toward life since his heart attack. “We’ve got to be thankful for what we have, even if we think we don’t have what we really want,” he says. “Since my heart attack, I look at life differently.

I want to give something back to our community. “We need to break away from that stigma.”

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