Brodie Douglas gives presentation about historical perspectives on Métis health

Douglas explains the effect colonization had on Métis people in Canada

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The photo is of the Canadian outdoors. Large mountains are seen in the background. A river runs through a green forest.
The presentation was held in partnership with BC Centre for Disease Control and SFU health sciences. PHOTO: Pixabay / Pexels

By: Chloë Arneson, News Writer

On June 9, BC Centre for Disease Control and SFU faculty of health sciences hosted a virtual presentation by Brodie Douglas on the historical context of Métis health. 

Tanya Davoren, the senior director of health of Métis Nation BC, welcomed the audience by introducing Douglas. “I can think of no one better to address how colonial history of the Métis nation has impacted our nation’s health and well-being,” she said. Douglas is Fraser Health’s Indigenous cultural safety educator and a Métis Nation historian. 

“The social determinants of Métis health are not only social but are primarily and more specifically, political and historical,” he said.

For Métis peoples, current social health determinants of health, such as being a visible minority or unemployed, are stronger health predictors than behavioural factors such as smoking or obesity. Métis health can be determined by the disproportionate health risk that resulted from colonial history and modern institutional racism, such as being poor, owning a car, or living near polluted lands. The United Nations permanent forum on Indigenous Issues has identified the need for culturally specific determinants for Indigenous peoples.

Currently, health funding for Indigenous peoples does not include Métis or those who do not hold status. “The marginalisation of Métis has its origin with the non-recognition of Aboriginality by the Canadian state,” Douglas said.

Douglas explained as the government of Canada historically ignored Métis land rights, many individuals agreed to scrip certificates, which stripped them of their Indigenous title in exchange for land or money. He said these documents were difficult to navigate as most Métis did not know how to read or write. “The scrip regime defrauded Métis of our treaty and Indigenous rights,” Douglas said. “This loss has had a negative impact on Métis culture and continues to impact the health and well-being of the Métis population.”

Douglas went on to explain some of Métis peoples’ rich history and how it has contributed to inequitable access to health services. Through military and political conquest, colonizers displaced Métis peoples, resulting in demographic shifts among their population in 1885. “Métis people found themselves without a landbase. Without a landbase and without an economy, marginalised at the fringes of society,” Douglas noted. 

In the 1900s, this was often still true. “Even though there were public schools in these areas, Métis could not attend because there was such a remarkable amount of racism,” he said. Residential schools were in operation long before and after this period, with attendance becoming mandatory in 1920 under the Indian Act.

In 1936, Métis peoples were still not afforded health benefits and many lived far away from doctors or did not possess the financial means to go see one. Douglas’ presentation featured a quotation by Diedre Desmarais that noted “the colonization of Aboriginal peoples created the circumstance whereby poverty became an inevitable consequence [ . . . ] colonization created the conditions for inequitable access to health care and services.

“I joke sometimes, Métis is the best kept secret in BC, but it’s because our history is not often told,” said Douglas. “We become invisible.”