Alberta Health Services employee suspended for texting racial slur to Indigenous woman
An Alberta Health Services employee has been suspended after using a racial slur to refer to a Kainai Board of Education school principal in a text message.
The text sent by the employee on Monday refers to another AHS worker apparently being disciplined during a training event in southern Alberta, but was accidently sent to the school principal.
The text called her “rabid,” while also using an offensive racial slur for an Indigenous woman.
The messages were written about — and accidentally sent to — Ramona Big Head, the principal of Tatsikiisaapo’p Middle School, located southwest of Lethbridge.
“Think of that image for a second,” Big Head said Thursday. “This description brings to mind an animal, such as a dog, frothing at the mouth, dangerous, vicious, mad, who ultimately needs to be put down.”
A survivor of the residential school program, Big Head said she has worked hard throughout her career to end what she calls “the cycle of despair.”
After going back to school at the age of 24 — having had seven children by the age of 22, her first at 15 — Big Head completed her bachelor of arts and bachelor of education by age 30.
She taught at Kainai High School, also southwest of Lethbridge, for 14 years, earning her master of education during that time. She is now a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia.
“I share my personal story with you to show that if [the now-suspended AHS employee] and many others who share the same dark, racist thoughts as her, had taken the time to have a conversation with me, and begin to build a positive relationship based on mutual respect, then maybe, just maybe, she would have thought twice before she referred to me as [the racial slur].”
Health minister angered
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman issued a statement Thursday, saying she has met with Kainai Chief Roy Fox and Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan about the incident.
“I am angry and disappointed that a public employee would use such hateful and racist language,” the statement read. “This is totally unacceptable and there will be consequences.”
A statement from Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of AHS, offered an apology to all Kainai members.
“Any use of racist language is completely unacceptable and we have contacted the Kainai Nation to offer our most sincere apology to the nation and to the Kainai employee in question,” she said in a statement. “We have taken immediate action to investigate what happened. An employee has been put on administrative leave effective today.”
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