N.W.T. health department plans mandatory training to tackle 'inherent racism'

For the past three years, the department has been sending some doctors and nurses from the territory to workshops in southern Canada to figure out what training programs would work best for practitioners in the North.

Deputy minister Debbie DeLancey says courses to be offered within next 5 years

Debbie DeLancey, N.W.T.'s deputy minister of Health and Social Services. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

The deputy health minister for the Northwest Territories says complaints sent to its department are "always dealt with" by written responses, but says she's hoping planned training will help mitigate those issues that are based on ethnicity, gender identity or race.

Debbie DeLancey says for the past three years, the department has been sending some doctors and nurses from the territory to workshops in southern Canada to figure out what training programs would work best for practitioners in the North.

Within the next five years, the department plans on creating its own courses that health workers must take as part of their jobs in order to be better prepared for anyone who walks in their offices. 

"It's trying to create that understanding and that awareness of inherent cultural bias, inherent racism, and people being really conscious of treating every individual with respect and courtesy," DeLancey said.

Wrong assumptions

That's been a problem, according to some people in the North.

In August, Maggie Papik contacted CBC and her MLA about the way health staff in Aklavik, N.W.T., dealt with her uncle, Hugh Papik.

She said staff assumed her uncle was drunk when in fact he had had a stroke that caused swelling in the brain.

Two days later, he was declared brain dead and Papik unplugged him from life support.

Hugh Papik, 68, suffered a stroke at home in Aklavik, N.W.T., Aug. 3. He was declared brain dead and his family took him off life support just a couple days later. (submitted by Maggie Papik)

"He wasn't drunk. There's lots of natives that are being wrongfully treated. That's just not right," Papik told CBC at the time.

DeLancey says the health department doesn't track the exact number of complaints it receives, but says she hasn't seen many related to prejudicial issues like race. 

She does say though, that after working with Aboriginal people in small communities around the territory, she better understands the issues they face, and says the department is trying to find ways to make everyone feel safe within the health system in the N.W.T., something she notes is called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 

"We're doing some very exciting stuff," DeLancey said. "It's not enough and it's not fast enough, but I like it."

Got a complaint?

At a meeting earlier this year, some members of the LGBTQ community in Yellowknife stressed that they had no idea how or where to voice the problems they face with the healthcare system in the N.W.T. 

Some people, like Jacq Brasseur, do not identify with he or she, but instead use them, they and their.

"When I go to a doctor and the doctor misgenders me or calls me by a name I've asked them not to call me, I don't know where to go to complain about it," Brasseur said at the meeting in April. 

DeLancey says there are many ways, including sending an email directly to her, the health minister, or an MLA.

She says people can also speak with their patient representative, which "isn't widely known," but does exist for each of the three health and social services authorities.

Brianne Timpson is the patient representative for the Stanton Territorial Health Authority at 669-4101 or 

Patients in Hay River can call the main switchboard at 874-8000. The main number for the Tlicho Health and Social Services is 1-888-255-1010.