NEW CREDIT FIRST NATION – McMaster Children’s Hospital delivered a message to the Sault family Wednesday with an ultimatum; either bring their daughter Makayla back to McMaster or another hospital for chemotherapy, or treat the child with exclusively with alternative therapy via Ongwehowe Onongwatri:to (traditional medicines) and get reported to the Children’s Aid Society for failure to protect your child.
McMaster Children’s Hospital staff are aware that the Ojibwe family has been treating their 11 year old daughter with Ongwehowe Onongwatri:yo: (indigenous medicines) via a traditional healer on Six Nations. However they said that because there are no studies done to give hard statistics on the efficacy of using Ongwehowe Onongwatri:yo in treating Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia with a positive Philladelphia chromosome, the hospital is viewing the Sault family’s choice of following Makayla’s wishes to use traditional medicines instead of chemotherapy as failing to provide proper medical care for the child.
Makayla’s mother Sonya Sault spoke with the Two Row Times this morning and said that during an early meeting in discussing Makayla’s care the lead physician Dr. Barr told the family he disagrees with the use of indigenous medicines. Sault told the New Credit First Nation Band Councillors in a meeting held Monday that the lead oncologist assigned to Makayla’s case tried to convince the family that Onongwatri:yo: was “100% ineffective” and “so expensive”. During the meeting Sault told the Band Council, “[Dr. Barr] said to us ‘…anyone who says that traditional medicine works should be thrown in jail.’”
Now, the family has taken additional steps to protect their rights and Makayla’s rights to use culturally appropriate alternative medicines. The New Credit First Nation Band Council has issued a letter of support to the family and stated in a meeting on Monday that they would unequivocally support the Sault family, and not permit anyone to forcibly remove the child from the reserve.
Makayla Sault read her letter to the Band Council, who also shared with the family another letter of support sent by the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI) Grand Chief Gordon Peters to Andrew Koster, Executive Director of the Brant CAS.
The letter from Peters states that the Sault family decision to treat Makayla with traditional medicines is not of inaction, but of action. It reads, “The suggestion by hospital officials that using our traditional methods of healthcare is “irrational” or “not of a sound mind” is beyond insulting and must be rejected outright.”
Six Nations Elected Band Council Chief Ava Hill also spoke with the Two Row Times about the story saying,” McMaster should be working with the family to help the young girl cope with this terrible disease and to recover as quickly as possible. For them to threaten to take the child away from her loving family because they want to use traditional medicine is totally unacceptable in this day and age.”
A community group has also been assembled, called the “Makayla Defense Force”. This is a peaceful group made up of community members from both Six Nations and New Credit adults and youth who have promised to peaceably protect Makayla should authorities from other territories try to intervene and remove the child from her family.
The family also shared with the New Credit First Nation Band Council that Makayla’s spiritual encounter was ridiculed by hospital staff. Since the story has broken across news media, the family has been contacted by a representative who is seeking to bring the family to New York to present this case before the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues which is taking place this week. The family has invited Chief Bryan LaForme to act as a representative for them in that forum.
Makayla had major adverse reactions to the numerous chemotherapies that she was administered and as a result asked her parents to stop the treatments and instead give her traditional medicines. Current pharmaceutical protocol involving the type of cancer Makayla has is aggressive and involves a number of chemotherapies administered simultaneously. In one case, her mother says the 65lb child was given the adult dosage.
Sault said that McMaster presented options via a mediator Wednesday morning, saying while Makayla is being treated exclusively with Onongwatri:yo: on the New Credit First Nation the oncologists at McMaster still want to monitor her bloodwork through the family’s physician. However the hospital says they are now obligated under the Child and Family Services Act to report Makayla to the Children’s Aid Society as a “child in need of protection”.
Representatives from McMaster Children’s Hospital have not responded to our requests for comment at this time, however in similar cases where families refused chemotherapy and the CAS has been involved, the children have been apprehended and sent back to the hospital for treatments. Makayla Sault however, may be the first indigenous child put in this situation.
According to Article 24 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada officially endorsed in November 2010, indigenous people have the right to utilize traditional medicines without discrimination. Article 10 of the declaration also states that indigenous people cannot be forcibly removed from their traditional territory.
Numerous consultants were brought to Makayla’s medical team at McMaster Children’s Hospital by the Sault family to explain the validity of Onongwatri:yo: in treating indigenous patients; including three Aboriginal Patient Navigators that work for Hamilton Health Sciences. During a meeting held at the hospital, these navigators engaged in conversation with the medical team overseeing Makayla’s case, trying to educate McMaster of the possible larger scale detrimental ramifications that pushing this matter over to the CAS could entail.
The Saults also invited Dr. Dawn Martin-Hill, an Associate Professor at McMaster University and one of the founders of the institution’s Indigenous Studies Program. Her presence was requested to help explain to Dr. Barr and the rest of the medical staff why the involvement of the CAS, removal of the child and forced chemotherapy could create the “perfect storm” in a community that is just now generations later able to move toward reconciliation after years of intergenerational trauma from Canada’s Residential School System and implementation of the Indian Act. Children in residential schools across Canada were not only forcibly removed from the care of their parents, but were also subject to medical testing and sterilization with the complicity of the federal government.