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Alberta Health Services fires 2 employees after racial slur about Indigenous school principal

Two Alberta Health Services employees have been fired after a racial slur against First Nations people was used to describe a Kainai Board of Education school principal in a text message.

Offensive text message sent toward principal on Kainai First Nation, also known as Blood First Nation

Ramona Big Head, principal at Tatsikiisaapo’p Middle School, was shocked to see a text message with a racial slur sent by an AHS employee. Two employees have now been fired as a result. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

Two Alberta Health Services employees have been fired after a racial slur against First Nations people was used to describe a Kainai Board of Education school principal in a text message. 

Ramona Big Head is the principal of Tatsikiisaapo'p Middle School in Stand Off, which is on the Kainai First Nation southwest of Lethbridge and about 200 kilometres south of Calgary.

Big Head says one of the AHS employees sent a text last week referring to her as a "rabid squaw."

The AHS employee intended to send it to a colleague but instead accidentally texted a member of the Kainai Board of Education.

The AHS employee complained that a colleague was apparently disciplined during a training event on the Kainai First Nation, also known as the Blood Tribe First Nation.

The series of text messages sent by an Alberta Health Services employee used a racial slur to refer to Ramona Big Head, the principal of Tatsikiisaapo'p Middle School. (Ramona Big Head)

"Two Alberta Health Services' employees have been terminated as a result of this incident," Dr. Verna Yiu, the president and CEO of AHS, said in an email statement on Monday.

"The terminations are effective immediately. To respect the privacy of this process and all involved, no further information will be released on the terminations or the terminated employees."

Yiu could not be reached to clarify what role the second employee played in the incident.

In her statement, Yiu stressed the importance of "building cultural competency and sensitivity in our staff," and said the "true test of our organization is what we do next."

'Dark, racist thoughts' 

Big Head went public with news of the text last Thursday.

"Think of that image for a second," Big Head said.

'This description brings to mind an animal, such as a dog, frothing at the mouth, dangerous, vicious, mad, who ultimately needs to be put down.- Principal Ramona Big Head

"This description brings to mind an animal, such as a dog, frothing at the mouth, dangerous, vicious, mad, who ultimately needs to be put down."

A survivor of the residential school program, Big Head said she has worked hard throughout her career to end what she calls "the cycle of despair."

After going back to school at the age of 24 — having had seven children by the age of 22, her first at 15 — Big Head completed her bachelor of arts and bachelor of education by age 30.

She taught at Kainai High School, also southwest of Lethbridge, for 14 years, earning her master of education during that time. She is now a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia.

"I share my personal story with you to show that if [the now-fired AHS employee] and many others who share the same dark, racist thoughts as her, had taken the time to have a conversation with me, and begin to build a positive relationship based on mutual respect, then maybe, just maybe, she would have thought twice before she referred to me as a rabid squaw."

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