My experience as an urban Indigenous two spirit person navigating the pandemic and healthcare system.
There is something I feel frustrated about as a low income Indigenous person. When I see how colonizers have managed to cultivate the healthcare system to their advantage. A healthcare system that has managed to detour Indigenous and low income folks from using their services effectively.
When I was growing up, my Mother was the sole income earner in my family. She didn’t have insurance, despite working for a prominent lawyers office. They did not provide proper insurance to their long term employees, and she worked for 35 years until retirement. She had two underage Indigenous children to look after, and no means to provide proper healthcare for them or herself. I remember being sick a lot as a kid. I was born with a congenital heart defect, so I was in and out of Sick Kids until I was 18. I also have suffered from overcrowded teeth, persistent debilitating migraines, anxiety and depression, rosacea and dermatitis, endometriosis at puberty, and a vague learning disability that followed me all through high school.
My personal care growing up was a family doctor that had delivered me when I was born. What came with her was old school, neglectful practices. She refused prescriptions, referrals, specialists, neglected my cries for help in regard to mental health, and at most asked me to keep a food journal for my migraines. I also have never been asked to see a proper congenital disease doctor since being discharged from Sick Kids hospital at 18. I currently have a nurse practitioner, and have acquired free therapy through Indigenous programming but that’s about it. It’s still difficult to break down barriers, and effective communication skills with a white practitioner who’s microaggressions mean you have to remind them you’re Indigenous at every appointment.
There is something annoying about seeing “social media influencers” talk about their CBD/weed prescriptions for their ailments before legalization happened, their frequent trips to boutique weed shops, their cosmetic surgeries, dermatology appointments, their persistent dental/orthodontic upkeep, massage therapy, spas, other costly self care methods, ADHD/Autism diagnosis through professionals that cost thousands of dollars in non insured assessments.
I am disgusted by the privileges' of private insurance and lack of accessibility for anyone in essential services, or any work environment that offers low or no benefits. If you’re low income, it is statistically proven that you die sooner. If you’re Indigenous you are way more susceptible to health concerns, and lack of proper nutrition, diabetes, heart conditions, and you statistically die sooner. I have a Father who spent his life with heart issues, including heart attacks, COPD and heart failure. With my health concerns not even based on my family history, I will likely die sooner than the average colonizer.
I have since self diagnosed as a neurodiverse person, after attending post secondary school as a mature student. I self diagnose because even to this day I cannot be properly diagnosed. I have struggled with dyscalculia all of my life and that has been a long and insufferable process. Though there never was a word for it when I was a kid. Instead I got some random visits from guidance counsellors as a kid. There also was no information about ADHD when I grew up in the 90s, except for my CIS male counterparts. At that point Autism and its awareness never existed. What I do know is I have stimmed for as long I could remember to cope with stress and never understood what that was. I hid that desperately thinking there was something wrong with me well into adulthood.
I have meltdowns when I am overwhelmed, smells and sounds were always a lot for me, I always in my entire life have felt not quite on the same learning levels as most people even though I excelled in certain subjects. I have tough times paying attention, reading for long periods of time (and I love reading), I struggle working regular jobs. I have also spent my 36 years of existence as a masker. Someone who can mask well socially, but who is introverted and drained easily. In fact, I think I am one of THE best maskers in existence. I have learned and observed how to be normal. I have been conditioned to fit into white, and neurotypical environments perfectly. All of these feelings came back on my journey through mature student status.
Another interesting thing you learn to do when you grow up low income or without insurance is the process of self diagnosis. It almost becomes a normal part of your existence. Do you know how much time I have spent over my life adapting and learning to take care of myself? Or how to cope? Do you know how many products I’ve purchased, or questions on the internet, and in Reddit forums I’ve scrounged to learn about rosacea and dermatitis?
When it came to COVID-19 Indigenous folks including myself were given prioritization in Ontario for the vaccine. When it slowly started to come out in the media that this was the case, a flurry of disgusting racist comments overfilled the media comments. People wondered why such a group of people deserved it over them. Why were we being prioritized as a race or ethnicity?
This seems to the common opinion amongst colonizers. They question why we have some prescription and dental coverage where as they do not. They ask why their taxes go to us as Indigenous folk. Canada today owes us beyond basic NIHB coverage, or priority COVID-19 vaccinations. What I hear from my family is constant NIHB cut backs on their convoluted coverage that is only provided through status, and them being caught having to pay for their healthcare through their providers anyway. People like my Father, and aging Aunts and Uncles have been subjected to questioning from NIHB and their practitioners over dental costs and prescriptions. Canada owes us far beyond the scraps of which we are currently being provided.
There is not only a complete lack of proper traditional or Indigenous healthcare providers, there is barely enough healthcare for us in general. I graduated with a medical office administration degree in the white colonist education system, and throughout the curriculum the medicine wheel was touched on with basic understanding. Yet Indigenous health care, or even billing was left out persistently from my white instructors vernacular. It is a constant neglect in our educational system, and our culture in general. People tend to see traditional teaching, as hippie hocus pocus, and not as a integral part of Indigenous well being and culture. There is just a complete lack of education about proper and effective Indigenous healthcare. I have spent a great deal of my life not only navigating reconnection with Indigenous culture and reclamation which was lost because of the Canadian government, but have suffered physically and mentally because of the Canadian healthcare system and have been neglected through out my life. On top of being chastised by colonizers for these so called incentives.
This doesn’t even delve into the non urban Indigenous communities that are encountering COVID-19, or those who have died because of lack of paid sick days in Ontario. Today I read about Victor Thunderchild, a teacher and residential school survivor who before dying of COVID tweeted about essential workers, their lack of vaccinations. This goes beyond the COVID crisis but the persistent neglect of Indigenous people in all facets of Canada’s policies.