“That’s exactly what primary health care was designed to do: to bring the system to the people rather than the people to the system.
McLeod has successfully completed his project, Apinoche Tahkosin (The Child Has Arrived): A Story of Community Involvement, in August 2021. She hopes to qualify for her Master’s degreeGovernance and Entrepreneurship in Nordic and Indigenous Territories (GENI) through the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy by Spring 2022.
Kewistep, who taught social work at the First Nations University of Canada, also served as a cultural support worker with the First Nations and Métis Health Service of the former Saskatoon Health Region, where McLeod was the Chief of file in 2015.
He remembers seeing mothers, alone and crying as they faced teams of social workers trying to persuade them to hand over custody of newborns. Mothers were often told that their babies would be placed in foster care for three months before picking up their babies. Little did they know that signing a consent form created a record that would follow them and jeopardize custody of the mother indefinitely, he said.
“I would challenge them. I said, ‘You have a code of ethics that you have to follow. You should never leave your client in a state of trauma. What are you doing?” said Kewistep.
McLeod also heard of nurses and doctors pressuring reluctant patients to undergo tubal ligations.
“They (didn’t) even think twice that what they’re doing is wrong, is unethical,” she said.
The health region changed its policy to prevent sterilization without discussion, and social services stopped using birth alerts, but many Indigenous mothers still need hospital support to process birth certificates, l registration of Indian status and social insurance numbers.
The team, made up of members of Yellow Quill in the lead, Kewistep as the vital link between the community and the university, researcher McLeod and Ramsden, produced a helpful welcome package, which also includes codes of ethics for nurses, doctors and social workers.
The project highlights the need for Indigenous organizations and communities to have support workers to advocate for new mothers in the health care system, ensure mothers know their rights and never sign documents without understanding what they mean.
The package has already prevented newborns from being apprehended by social services, Kewistep said.
Yellow Quill First Nation owns the copyright to the work, but actively invites other Indigenous communities and organizations to adopt and customize it to suit their needs.
McLeod is well aware of the racist and unethical treatment of Aboriginal patients. Early in her career, she watched a doctor perform treatment on a mute Indigenous woman without anesthesia, despite the protests of three nurses who could see the pain it was causing her.
As a young nurse feeling helpless, McLeod moved to work in a First Nations organization. She said if she had known then what she knows now, she would have reported the doctor to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The incident sparked a determination in her to ensure that Indigenous peoples receive equitable and ethical health care.
McLeod completed her training with four years of week-long summer camps at the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, where she learned traditional Aboriginal treatments and medicines.
“I feel very humbled to have been chosen by the Creator to do this work…To be part of the change that needs to happen, to help be part of that voice for those who have been voiceless.”