An emergency care clinic catering exclusively to Indigenous people and their needs is opening in Montreal this week — the first of its kind in the city.
Anyone who identifies as Indigenous will be able to walk into the clinic — initiated by the Indigenous Health Centre of Tiotihà:ke (IHCT) — and receive adapted care from a doctor and nurses.
The clinic will blend traditional Indigenous and Western approaches to medicine in order to provide physical, mental and spiritual care.
Michelle Reis-Amores, clinic director and executive director of the IHCT, says she’s both excited and very busy ahead of the opening on Wednesday.
“These people will have the opportunity to come to a safe space and have their needs met,” she said.
Indigenous advocates have been pushing for an Indigenous health centre in Montreal for years. Calls for the centre renewed following the death of Joyce Echaquan, a woman from the Atikamekw community of Manawan who filmed staff at a hospital in Joliette, Que., hurling racist comments at her in her final hours in 2020.
At first, the clinic will only be open Wednesday mornings starting Aug. 9 for 15-minute appointments.
An inaugural event will be held on Aug. 15 to celebrate the launch of the clinic, which is located on the second floor of the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex, next to Vendôme Metro station.
Challenges in health-care system
Reis-Amores, a non-Indigenous ally who has been engaged with First Nations teachings for more than 20 years, says the challenges Indigenous people face in the health-care system are myriad and are not limited to racism.
She says one of the main obstacles is the language barrier, as most Indigenous people in Montreal speak English, not French.
“Indigenous people can sometimes visit a Quebec-run health establishment and find that the staff are not bilingual,” said Reis-Amores.
The clinic will also allow patients to receive treatment that’s better adapted to their geographical reality, including the possible back-and-forth between their community and the city.
“They travel a lot, they want to stay in touch with their family, their community,” said Reis-Amores. “Keeping a family doctor is sometimes very, very complicated.”
Patients will also be able to get help from a “health navigator,” who will guide them through the bureaucracy of the health-care system.
As it stands, the clinic only has one doctor.
“He’s very involved and loves the project,” said Reis-Amores of Dr. Sean Yaphe, noting he is also one of the founding members of the IHCT.
She says she hopes to recruit more doctors — five others have already expressed an interest.
‘Seen for who they are’
Dominick Mikkelson, an administrative assistant at the clinic, sees the importance of this health centre through the lens of their personal experience.
Mikkelson, who is Cree-Mohawk and two-spirit, says it’s been extremely difficult to get an appointment in Montreal for gender-affirming care in recent years .
“It’s hard enough as an English speaker. If you add the fact that I’m two-spirit, that I can pass for white … there are so many stereotypes that need to be shattered,” Mikkelson said.
This is why they’re “extremely happy” to be working at the clinic.
“It gives people the chance to come in a natural way, to be seen for who they are.”
Securing more government support
Quebec has four Indigenous health clinics integrated into Native Friendship Centres — in Val d’Or, La Tuque, Joliette and Quebec City.
Reis-Amores wants financial aid from the health authority for Montreal’s downtown area and the Quebec government.
“This can be seen as a pilot project. Over time, needs will increase, support will be sought more and more,” she said, describing the current collaboration with the provincial government as a “work in progress.”
“We need to reassess where we are in terms of public health.”