Police called on Cree family trying to access care for baby in distress in northern Quebec

The Mukash family of Whapmagoostui, Que., say they received inadequate care and fell they faced discrimination from staff at the local Cree health board. They have filed a complaint with the board and are heading to Montreal to seek medical care for an 11-month-old baby with severe eczema and other health issues.

Mukash family members say they have lost faith in the local Cree health board clinic

Slash Mukash-Saganash at his traditional walking out ceremony in August. Slash's parents say they received inadequate care and faced discrimination at the Cree health board clinic in Whapmagoostui, Que. (Submitted by Jade Mukash)

Members of a Cree family in northern Quebec say they were in shock after police were called to a local medical clinic where they were trying to get help for a baby in distress in the middle of the night.

"I was shaking uncontrollably. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat," said the baby's mom, Jade Mukash, who lives in the fly-in Cree community of Whapmagoostui, Que., about 1,200 kilometre north of Montreal.

Eleven-month-old Slash has eczema and was showing signs of an infection that he'd received antibiotics for before. Early Tuesday morning, after he'd been lethargic for two days, the family noticed Slash's feet and lips were blue, Mukash said. 

At around 1 a.m., Mukash, 22, called the local medical clinic, run by the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. Its staff includes Cree health care workers and many non-Indigenous nurses and doctors who often fly in on a rotating basis. 

I was shaking uncontrollably.​​​​ I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat.- Jade Mukash, Whapmagoostui mom

After initially refusing to see the boy, the nurse on duty eventually agreed over the phone that they could bring him in, Mukash said. But tensions escalated, and at one point during the phone call, the nurse said she felt "unsafe" and threatened to call police, Mukash said.

Mukash, along with her partner, Slash's father, and other family members brought the baby to the clinic. There were two nurses on duty, but no doctor, she said. 

Two police forces called in

Mukash said tensions were still high at the clinic as she insisted during the consultation with the nurse that her son see a doctor who could prescribe antibiotics that had worked in the past. She said nobody in her family at any point threatened or yelled at any of the clinic staff.

The nurse mentioned police again when the family was at the clinic, this time saying the doctor advised staff to call them, Mukash said. Police from two different jurisdictions arrived, and the family left.

"I just keep reliving the fear of being forcibly removed from the clinic, just for trying to get antibiotics for my baby," said Mukash.

About 12 hours later, she returned to the clinic, where a doctor prescribed antibiotics for Slash, she said.

She said the experience has made her lose faith in the local clinic and believes her family was subjected to inadequate care and discrimination. She said one thing that made her suspect the family was being discriminated against was that clinic staff told them calling Cree police on a Cree family would be a conflict of interest. 

"I knew there was discrimination at this point," she said. 

Whapmagoostui is located beside the Inuit community of Kuujjuarapik, and police from both forces were called to the clinic, Mukash said.

Health board says situation is under investigation

A spokesperson at the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay said the situation that occurred Tuesday is under investigation and declined to comment further for now.

CBC called both police services and the director of operations at Whapmagoostui clinic to ask about the situation but had not heard back by the time of publication.

Officers from both the regional Whapmagoostui's Eeyou Eenou Police Force and Kuujjuarapik's Nunavik Police Service were called into the clinic early Tuesday morning while the family was seeking care for the baby. (Submitted by Natasia Mukash)

Mukash said the family has been beside themselves with worry over the baby, who has been struggling with chronic diarrhea, low iron levels and suspected allergies in addition to eczema.

She said they have seen five different doctors at the Whapmagoostui clinic, but none would send the family south to see a specialist, something the Cree health board does routinely. In 2018, there were 21,000 Cree patient visits to places such as Val d'Or, Chibougamau and Montreal to see medical specialists. 

Cree Health did send Mukash and Slash to see a pediatrician in the Cree community of Chisasibi, Que., three weeks ago, after Mukash filed a complaint with the board over the challenges they'd experienced with Slash's health care, but there was still no referral to see a specialist.

Mukash has now filed another official complaint with the Cree health board about the Tuesday morning interaction, during which police were called, she said. 

The Mukash family had been raising money to get themselves to a pediatrician in Montreal when they learned they would finally be allowed onto a medical charter Thursday. They left for Montreal at noon. 

Not the first challenge over care for family

This is not the Mukash family's first challenge accessing care for a child with severe eczema. 

Jade Mukash's seven-year-old sister, Legend, has had a severe outbreak of eczema for many months, according to Natasia Mukash, Legend and Jade's mom. 

"She started a small patch on her face, and then it spread to her whole face, her neck and her arms, and then her hands and her fingers," said Natasia Mukash. Most recently, it spread to her eyelids and ears.

It got to the point where Legend was unable to move and attend school, her mom said. 

We would be told, 'Oh, it's just eczema'.- Natasia Mukash, mother of Legend and Jade

"No matter how many times we would call the clinic to ask for help … we would just be told, 'Oh, it's just eczema. It's just eczema'," said Natasia Mukash.

Seven-year-old Legend Mukash has been in extreme pain and unable to move or go to school. The family says her condition is finally improving with traditional medicine. (Submitted by Natasia Mukash)

She said the Cree health board should share more information with parents about traditional medicines. 

"[Cree health board officials] don't seem to talk about it, and we need to," said Natasia Mukash.

After several painful months, the family finally found its way to local elders who taught them how to use and prepare traditional treatments with bear grease, tamarack and Labrador tea leaves, she said.

Asked about this concern, a Cree health board spokesperson said on the guidance of Nishiiyuu — a council of elders within the board — it is careful about what it shares online about Cree traditional medicines and that it's best to be guided by a knowledgeable healer. The health board does, however, have information about some traditional medicines on its website. 

But Natasia Mukash said the board needs to do more, because not everyone has access to knowledge keepers. She also said Legend is doing much better since they started with the medicine and followed advice from elders to eat a more traditional diet. 

"It's such a simple thing ... to see your child singing and dancing and jumping," said Natasia Mukash. "But just to see her doing that is the most amazing thing to me."