STANDOFF, Alta. — Alberta Health Services is apologizing and has placed an employee on administrative leave after officials at a southern Alberta First Nation complained about a racial slur being used in a text message.
The incident occurred last week during an AHS seminar for educators working on the Kainai First Nation, also known as the Blood Tribe.
Annette Bruisedhead, deputy superintendent of the Kainai Board of Education, said one of the seminar participants received a text from an AHS official complaining that she'd been yelled at by someone during the meeting.
Asked who had been yelling at her, the AHS official replied "a rabid squaw," and named a KBE employee, Bruisedhead told a news conference Thursday.
"It's evident that this text was accidentally sent to our KBE employee, not realizing the mistake," said Bruisedhead, adding they quickly received a call from the AHS official who sent the text.
"She apologized for her behaviour. However, we stand strong and united as this severe act of discrimination and racism will not be tolerated."
The CEO of Alberta Health Services issued an apology Thursday.
"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," said Dr. Verna Yiu.
"We have taken immediate action to investigate what happened. An employee has been put on administrative leave effective today."
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman also expressed her displeasure in a statement released Thursday evening.
"I am angry and disappointed that a public employee would use such hateful and racist language. This is totally unacceptable and there will be consequences," Hoffman said, adding that Chief Roy Fox has agreed to speak to her and Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan about the matter.
"He shared how painful and damaging these kinds of comments are. We agreed to work together in addressing both this incident and the larger challenge of racism in our society."
Ramona Big Head, the principal of the middle school on the reserve, said she is the employee being referred to in the text.
She said the AHS official and many others "share the same dark, racist thoughts."
"If she had taken the time to have a conversation with me and begin to build a positive relationship, then maybe, just maybe, she would have thought twice before she referred to me as a rabid squaw," Big Head said.
"Think of that image. 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 spokeswoman for the chief and council said the incident has hurt many people.
"This blatant act of racism has not just hurt Ramona but it has hurt our community. This is just another tangible example...of the blatant racism that we continue to experience in southern Alberta," said Robin Little Bear.
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