Alberta Health Services worker suspended for texting racial slur about Indigenous school principal
'This is totally unacceptable and there will be consequences,' says Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman
An Alberta Health Services employee has been suspended after using a racial slur in a text message to refer to a Kainai Board of Education school principal.
The texts sent by the AHS employee on Monday refer to a colleague apparently being disciplined during a training event on the Kainai First Nation, also known as the Blood Tribe First Nation, which is southwest of Lethbridge and about 200 km south of Calgary.
However, the AHS employee accidentally sent the texts to an employee at the Kainai Board of Education.
Ramona Big Head — principal of Tatsikiisaapo'p Middle School in Stand Off — said she's referred to in one of the texts as a "rabid squaw."
"Think of that image for a second," Big Head said Thursday.
"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-suspended 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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Health minister 'angry and disappointed'
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman issued a statement Thursday, saying she has met with Kainai Chief Roy Fox and Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan about the incident.
"I am angry and disappointed that a public employee would use such hateful and racist language," the statement read. "This is totally unacceptable and there will be consequences."
A statement from Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of AHS, offered an apology to all Kainai members.
"Any use of racist language is completely unacceptable and we have contacted the Kainai Nation to offer our most sincere apology to the nation and to the Kainai employee in question," she said in a statement.
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- An earlier version of this story said Ramona Big Head, the principal of Tatsikiisaapo'p Middle School, had directly received the texts. In fact, the AHS employee accidentally sent them to another employee of the Kainai Board of Education, who passed them on.Jun 23, 2017 12:46 PM MT
With files from Sarah Lawrynuik