Press release

Vancouver Coastal Health introduces Indigenous women’s health team

Vancouver, B.C. – Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is evolving the way Indigenous women receive care in the health care setting. The In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care report, shared lived experiences and data highlighting the devastating disparities between Indigenous women and other residents in seeking and receiving health care in British Columbia. In the year following the release of the report, VCH's Aboriginal Health team has developed a strategy and put resources in place to address report findings and work across the health authority to affect positive change for Indigenous women, leading to easier access to culturally safe care and better health outcomes.

The In Plain Sight report – a review of Indigenous-specific racism in British Columbia's health-care system – found that there is widespread stereotyping, racism and profiling of Indigenous Peoples, which limits access to medical treatment and negatively affects their health and wellness. Public health emergencies – like the COVID-19 pandemic and the poisoned drug crisis – magnify racism and the detrimental effects. Further, the report found that Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately impacted. 

A key priority for VCH has been addressing report Recommendation 16 which calls on health authorities to respond to the specific experiences and needs of Indigenous women. 

"Indigenous women are leaders and matriarchs. If we uplift women, we uplift entire communities," said Leslie Bonshor, Vice President, Indigenous Health at Vancouver Coastal Health. "We have assembled a team of Indigenous women to hold space for these lived experiences and the reported data. These leaders have been given agency to address systemic barriers, racism and marginalization of Indigenous women, guide conversations and make recommendations that lead to solutions. Our approach here is a unique and an innovative response, grounded in Indigenous world views, to remedying these systemic issues." 

VCH has established an Indigenous Women and Family Health team. Led by Director Miranda Kelly, the team consists of an Indigenous Perinatal Substance Use Strategic Lead, an Indigenous Gender and Sexual Health Leader and two Indigenous Doulas. Together, they work across the health authority to ensure Indigenous knowledge and expertise is embedded in all Indigenous women's and family health-related matters, including gender equity and inclusivity, reproductive justice, perinatal health, infant and child health and anti-violence and anti-racism in health care. 

At the heart of this work is the Matriarchs and Knowledge Keepers Advisory Council – a group of Indigenous Elders, physicians, nurses, social workers, midwives, doulas and Aboriginal Health team members – who draw on the knowledge from their mothers, grandmothers and ancestors to provide guidance and strategic advice. The Indigenous Women and Family Health team works in close collaboration with Dr. Don Wilson, Regional Medical Director of Indigenous Health and a practicing Obstetrician-Gynecologist at VCH. 

"I'm proud to be leading this truly ground-breaking work and am excited for the months and years ahead as we build speciality services for Indigenous women and work to enhance access to maternal, child and reproductive health care," said Miranda Kelly, Director of Indigenous Women and Family Health at Vancouver Coastal Health. "Our ultimate goal is to provide culturally safe and welcoming care for all aspects of Indigenous women, two-spirit and non-binary, child and family health from the perinatal period through to end of life." 

Since 1999, Vancouver Coastal Health's (VCH) Aboriginal Health has been working to embed Indigenous perspectives into our health system and create a culturally-safe space for Aboriginal community members. In partnership with First Nations Health Authority and community partners, the Aboriginal Health team continues to implement a strong foundation of programs and services, including an Indigenous Cultural Safety training program that has been completed by more than 3,000 VCH staff over the past four years. 

This work is guided by the In Plain Sight report recommendations stemming from B.C. Ministry of Health to investigate Indigenous-specific discrimination in the health-care system, the Declaration of Commitment on Cultural Safety and Humility in Health Services for First Nations and Aboriginal signed by all B.C. Health Authorities, the Mandate Letter from Premier Horgan that outlines the priorities for our health authority as well as the calls to action from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

About Vancouver Coastal Health

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is responsible for the delivery of $4.1 billion in community, hospital and long-term care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola. VCH also provides specialized care and services for people throughout B.C.

April Penney
Communications Leader
Vancouver Coastal Health

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