News Release: Another Indigenous Person Ignored to Death by the System

January 21, 2022


Another Indigenous Person Ignored to Death by the System

An Urgent Call for Coroner and Provincial Inquest

January 20, 2022

(Thorold, ON) – Heather Winterstein entered Niagara Health—St. Catharines Site (St. Catharines General Hospital) in Ontario on December 9, 2021, complaining of a severe backache due to a fall and was sent away with Tylenol. Less than 48 hours later, the 24-year-old was dead.

Now Niagara Health is conducting an internal review. The family and communities surrounding Heather Winterstein seek answers in what appears to be yet another tragic example of institutional disregard for the health and safety of Indigenous people.

The Indigenous Diabetes Health Circle (IDHC) insists that there also be a comprehensive independent review, one that includes an investigation of the troubling health-care experiences of Indigenous patients.

The IDHC joins with its communities and allies at the Niagara Chapter of Native Women Inc., the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre and the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) to address this and all situations in which Indigenous individuals who present totally treatable conditions to health-care workers are “ignored to death.”

The IDHC considers that the case of Heather Winterstein is part of a pattern of systemic racism — not an isolated incident. Cases of Joyce Echaquan, Brent Sky, Brian Sinclair and too many other Indigenous families underscore the need to address and correct the problem.

Along with colleagues and partners, IDHC Executive Director Roslynn Baird strongly requests a fulsome Coroner’s Inquest in the case of Heather Winterstein, adding that “IDHC goes further in asking the provincial government to hasten efforts to make meaningful changes to the provincial health-care system to accommodate the real health-care requirements of Indigenous individuals.”

The IDHC presses for changes in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action (18 – 24), the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Calls for Justice and related human rights legislation. “We urge changes to respond to the specific failed care for Heather Winterstein and to correct the ongoing incidences of anti-Indigenous bias, racism and discrimination generally,” Roslynn confirmed.

The organization is advocating to avoid further catastrophes and permit Indigenous people to access health care without having to exercise extreme precautions or needing an obligatory advocate just to ensure their chances of surviving the medical visit. Indigenous people should not have to fight to be treated professionally and appropriately. Indigenous people need hospitals and health-care facilities to be safe and effective for everyone, without prejudice.

The Board of Directors of the IDHC extends its deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Heather Winterstein.

The IDHC provides programs focusing on diabetes education, prevention and management in Indigenous communities in Ontario, both on and off-reserve — serving First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities. Facilitating community capacity-building, building upon traditional strengths and supporting community-driven programming are IDHC’s core concerns.

For additional information please contact:

Roslynn Baird
Executive Director
Indigenous Diabetes Health Circle (IDHC)
On behalf of the Board of Directors T. 1-888-514-1370 C. 905-321-7059: E.