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Cynthia Blackjack

Woman was reluctant to see a nurse, inquest told

Cynthia Blackjack expressed distrust of the Carmacks health centre in the week before her death, a family friend told a coroner’s inquest Thursday.

By Gabrielle Plonka on January 24, 2020

Cynthia Blackjack expressed distrust of the Carmacks health centre in the week before her death, a family friend told a coroner’s inquest Thursday.

Bill Johnie testified via phone from Carmacks during the fourth day of the inquest investigating whether systemic issues played a part in Blackjack’s death in 2013.

The first two days of the inquest took place in Carmacks, where two witnesses said they believe they’ve been victims of discrimination while receiving care. The inquest then moved to Whitehorse.

Johnie told counsel he’d had a close relationship with Blackjack, who often babysat the children in his care and would visit nearly every day.

“Cynthia was my friend,” Johnie said.

“Cynthia was a good person; she helped me lots with the kids.”

Three days before Blackjack died, Johnie testified, she arrived at Johnie’s house complaining of nausea, and spent the night at his house.

She told Johnie, who thought she might be suffering a hangover, that she hadn’t been drinking.

He said he offered to take Blackjack to see a nurse.

Blackjack responded that a Carmacks nurse had warned her they would phone the RCMP if she visited the health centre too often.

“That’s why she didn’t want to go to the nurses’ station,” Johnie said.

“I tried to make her comfortable, and she was getting worse, getting more nausea. I told her again, I would take her to the nurse; she still didn’t want to.

“She said, ‘No, they’re gonna phone (the) cops on me.’ She didn’t trust them. She wanted to go to the hospital.”

Johnie said he was unable to drive Blackjack to Whitehorse General Hospital because his vehicle was unreliable.

He said she called the nurses’ hotline that evening, but he wasn’t present for the phone call.

Blackjack’s medical records show she made a call to the Carmacks health centre that evening, complaining of a toothache. She was advised to visit the health centre during regular hours the following day.

Johnie told counsel he eventually brought Blackjack to the Carmacks health centre on Nov. 6, the day before she died. He was advised an ambulance was not available to take her to Whitehorse.

He asked a nurse on duty to request a purchase order (P.O.) from the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation to drive Blackjack to Whitehorse in the First Nation van.

He said he was informed by a nurse that Rachel Byers of Little Salmon-Carmacks said the van was not available for medical transport.

Johnie said, however, he was told after Blackjack’s death that Byers was willing to prepare the P.O. for him.

Johnie said he assumed Blackjack had been sent to Whitehorse. He was surprised to learn she had returned to her grandmother’s house that evening.

The next morning, Vanessa Charlie called the Carmacks health centre requesting an ambulance for Blackjack. She was medevaced to Whitehorse later that day, and died during the air transport.

Charlie testified in Carmacks earlier this week.

She said there had been a delay in the ambulance arriving to pick up Blackjack, so she called the health centre again after several minutes to request its location.

Charlie told counsel she believes she has experienced a sub-par level of care at the centre.

Byers also testified this week. She said she has received some complaints from members about the level of care they had received at the centre.

Zach Cochrane, another witness, told counsel he has been turned away from the health centre in the past.

He feels he was asked questions that weren’t relevant to his visit, and suggested he was being profiled.

The inquest continued today, as it will next week. with testimony from the paramedics present during Blackjack’s air flight to Whitehorse.

Next week, expert witnesses will be called.

Peter Chisholm, a territorial court judge, is presiding over the proceeding, which is designed to elicit the facts behind a death but not assign blame to any person nor agency.

The inquest is taking place after several years of court proceedings that originated with the Yukon Coroner’s Office’s initial resistance to holding an inquest, which Blackjack’s family and the First Nation had sought.

Comments (27)

Up 3 Down 29

Old Timer on Jan 29, 2020 at 7:42 pm

Based upon the comments and the thumbs up, it is not difficult to conclude the racial bias is well and alive in the Yukon, as in the rest of Canada.

Up 5 Down 28

10th generation Yukoner on Jan 29, 2020 at 6:15 pm

My most sincere wish is that one day, Yukon children will get to read these comments as part of a course that will be called "What First Nations in Yukon faced in the 2020s from a part of the majority". They will be taught what the First Nations faced and how they overcame all sorts of racism and still took their rightful place in Canadian society.

Up 33 Down 4

Charlie's Aunt on Jan 28, 2020 at 8:10 pm

@ JB & E. Mad; OK you 2 wannabe brain surgeons, first off we don't know how long Cynthia had suffered from an abscessed tooth or whether she had been prescribed antibiotics at some point. Secondly, antibiotics are not meant for repeat episodes to subdue infection. The patient is supposed to visit a dentist for extraction, root canal or whatever, once the initial prescription has reduced the infection.
People from Carmacks come to W'horse so hitching a ride to dentist within 7-10 days of taking antis shouldn't have been difficult. Unfortunately, some will consider it all fine after they take the pills and the pain goes away until it rears its ugly head again, which it always will. Repeat prescriptions will eventually be ineffective because the bugs become resistant. Alcohol also reduces the efficiency of antibiotics. Unless you know for sure that Cynthia was never given antibiotics, quit spouting nonsense and neglected dental sepsis is far more likely to target the heart valves first before the liver. As it is stated it was complete organ failure. A very sad end to a young life, but it was preventable so quit blaming the health care staff.

Up 8 Down 40

JB on Jan 28, 2020 at 1:57 pm

She had complained of dental pain, which was most likely an abscess as there are reports that her face was swollen. An oral infection can cause sepsis. Sepsis can cause organ failure. Was her dental pain investigated? Why was she not treated for the probable dental infection with antibiotics at the health center. It is unfair to assume liver failure was due to alcoholism.

Up 8 Down 42

Extremely Mad on Jan 28, 2020 at 1:25 pm

All these non racism comments are racist in content. Who wants to work in a all native community? Why blame the healthcare? Well because this woman went in numerous times. The poison from the abscess got to her liver, not the booze.

Up 62 Down 7

Mark on Jan 28, 2020 at 10:50 am

I wish people would stop putting nurses down. My brother died in the care of nurses but I don't blame the nurses. My brother's constant abuse to his body finally took its toll. God bless you brother. He would drink days on end and do all kinds of drugs. He died of liver failure. No nurse in this world could of saved him. This lady did not die because of racism. She died of liver failure. The only thing that could of saved her was a liver transplant. She chose to drink. Nobody forced her to drink the liquor and destroy her liver. The liver is an amazing organ in the body. It will recover if you give it time. There is a lot of alcoholics who have recovered and seen the light of a better life. She lived the life of an alcoholic and that path leads to death. It is sad and my thoughts and prayers go out to the family. The body can only take much. The true KILLER here is alcohol nothing more and nothing less.

Up 51 Down 10

JC on Jan 27, 2020 at 5:25 pm

Extremely mad: I will be so happy when that Residential card is finally thrown out of the deck. I spent 3 years in a Residential School in my childhood. No complaints here. But, come on. Move on.

Up 81 Down 10

Joe on Jan 27, 2020 at 8:36 am

This story Is twisted. You have a crew who is blaming others for this incident. It isn’t the nurses’ fault or the system’s fault or the goverment’s fault. Stop blaming others for something when we all know the real cause. It’s very sad but the reality is all about choices and risks.

Up 16 Down 41

Capitan on Jan 26, 2020 at 11:47 pm

Whether it's racism or not, I don't know. Some acknowledgement from medical staff that this is not a situation to be desired would go a long way.
I'm a healthy individual, thank goodness, and not First Nations, but I've experienced enough impatience and disinterest in the Yukon from the fairly privileged, yet chronically dissatisfied, medical practitioners who are gracing us with their presence that I don't find it hard to believe that Blackjack wasn't eager to go to the clinic.

The health system up here is good for the most part, in that there's not many of us and we escape much of the stress that over-extended facilities down south have. But it's not above criticism.

Up 87 Down 11

drum on Jan 26, 2020 at 7:33 pm

The only remedy will be for all the nursing stations to close down and all patients come to Whitehorse Emergency. I have met many of those wonderful people (nurses) who look after patients 24/7 in the communities with no thank you. They get woken up in the middle of the night for no reason - they help with anything that is not even related to health - because they care about the community they have chosen to live in. If the communities think they are racists get First Nations nurses or have none at all.

Up 82 Down 7

2ManySnowflakes4Me on Jan 26, 2020 at 5:02 pm

Responsibility is the first word that comes to mind when following this story. Responsibility to take blame for your actions and accountability for your actions. It does not matter whether Ms. Blackjack was First Nation, Chinese, Japanese, East Indian, Pakistani or White, if there is a history of abuse and the nurses have dealt with this individual before and have observed the patient and made a diagnosis then they did so to the best of their ability. Where was the family of Ms. Blackjack? What was their responsibility in this tragedy?
Take responsibility for yourselves and make yourself better, do not fall into the cesspool of pity and blame everything on the past. You will never have a future if you can't get over the past. There has been racism and discrimination happening for thousands of years against all races, colours and creeds and some have moved on and made better of themselves and some continue to point the righteous finger and call for more assistance from the government, but do very little with it. Please take responsibility for yourself and become better.

Up 79 Down 11

Questions on Jan 26, 2020 at 4:10 pm

Where are the FN nurses? Why do we rarely see FNs in these jobs? If you can do better, why don’t you? Complaining and doing nothing is easy. If all the community nurses would leave tomorrow, what would you do? Blame the government and everyone else but yourself I bet.

Up 23 Down 54

BB on Jan 25, 2020 at 11:00 pm

The only question to answer is, would they have treated a 30 year old white/black/Chinese/etc. woman with the same medical history and socio-economic situation the same way?

The question is not whether or not she got the right treatment, whether they should have ordered the community's only ambulance to drive her to Whitehorse for a tooth ache (which I believe was the original complaint), or whether they wrote their notes with enough respect. The question is one of racism, and is therefore whether they would have treated the identical person the same way had she had a different 'racial' background.

Up 87 Down 12

Salt on Jan 25, 2020 at 8:13 pm

@Extremely mad
I have no doubt racism exists in the healthcare system, but probably no more or less than it does in FN culture or ANYWHERE else on God's green earth. Racism didn't cause her liver to fail and it is not behind the utter failure of the poor woman's social network to intervene. The only bias that was likely at play was one an active alcoholic of any color would face. Addicts are difficult people. Attributing her death to racism minimizes the real problems that need to be addressed.

Up 77 Down 7

Jonathan Currie on Jan 25, 2020 at 4:48 pm

Thank you so much to our community care staff who, I know from personal experience, provide efficient and highly competent care with a personable and professional demeanor. You folks always make my day!

Up 70 Down 5

John Doe on Jan 25, 2020 at 4:35 pm

How about this Mimi B - The healthcare system is good at making judgements about the drug-seeking behaviours of individual, some, who are First Nation. This exercise in good judgement is necessary to preserve life and to follow the doctrine of do no harm.

In the exercise of this judgement there are managerial directives, procedures, policies and medical science that must be applied in the decision-making process. In this milieu decision-makers must also consider past behaviours and the law.

Then on top of all this we have an adversarial system of finger pointing which is reinforced through the lens of unknowable and unachievable prescriptions such as diversity. Through this lens the one asserting victim status is seen as both an individual and as a representative of some assumed group membership: John/Jane, FN, female, LGTB2Q* and so on.

Rarely now do we find people responsible for their own behaviour - We live in a society in which there are scapegoats and there are victims...

Up 74 Down 6

Yukon Girl on Jan 25, 2020 at 3:55 pm

Sadly... I often wonder in situations such as these ... when you know someone is struggling with addiction so bad... WHERE IS THEIR FAMILY? Why dont they help? Where are the alcohol and drug support workers? This woman was failed by everyone.

Up 62 Down 6

Miles Epanhauser on Jan 25, 2020 at 2:22 pm

So she had an issue with the clinic and a nurse or two had an edge because of her habits and behaviour.
It's not racism but more likely the way you treat a difficult person when you assume it's their behaviour based on history and experience rather than a medical condition which is expressing itself.

The clinic and nurses could have done better, the first nation could have done better, and family and friends could have done better.

Up 53 Down 25

U. R. Foobarred on Jan 25, 2020 at 12:16 pm

With Farce - Racism in the name of reconciliation is being used to further a diversity agenda that eschews reality, facts and knowledge in favour of pre-emptive subjectivities which have form only in the aggregate which then must be stretched beyond recognition in a particular instance.

For example, the nurse was racist because racism exists and is defined regardless of the intent of the nurse. We must conform to the narrative whether or not the impugned behaviour can be instantiated in a particular interaction.

It’s crazy-making... Let the 1st Annual Gaslighting Games begin!
There are a lot of people with mediocre talents making big names for themselves in the current political climate because they can wag, shake and point a finger. The game is truly effed-up!

Up 29 Down 74

Mimi B on Jan 25, 2020 at 11:36 am

Just my opinion of course, but health care here in the Yukon is great at labeling FN individuals as "drug seeking," or "alcoholics." I say this as someone who used to be an RN and was labelled the same as I am also FN. I do not drink, nor do I use hard drugs. I use marijuana on occasion for pain and I made that decision based on medical necessity, I had no other option.
I made the mistake of voicing some safety and truth concerns I had regarding the practice to the government and was branded a whistle blower. The government then sent me to see an "addictions specialist" in Vancouver, a raging Baptist who has a few bats loose in the belfry, and lo and behold, I came back from Vancouver a full blown alcoholic/drug addict/sex addict/coffee addict because I had never participated in an AA session. I am no longer an RN and have no respect for the medical profession in this territory. I now advocate for my own people and hold those who try and defend this stereo-typical behavior in contempt.
I also pray that I never get too sick as my medical file still holds this false information. I am forced to stick to traditional medicine and self assessment.

Up 104 Down 20

Groucho d'North on Jan 25, 2020 at 11:26 am

I don't know what this inquest is expected to reveal as there seems to be the ever-present seperations of purpose. One side is looking to prove racism while the other is focused on demonstrating they followed established proceedures in providing treatments. Overshadowing this debate is the historic influence of alcohol abuse and its impact on our society.
One word that is seldom used in these debates is 'responsibility.' There is detailed focus to confirm the medical professionals honored their responsibilities as set out in approved policy and procedures, But there is no mention of the patient to live up to their responsibilities in the pursuit of achieving better health for themselves.
Racisim is the knee-jerk reaction whenever something does not go well for a Yukon aboriginal person.

Up 41 Down 73

Extremely mad on Jan 25, 2020 at 9:32 am

You seem to have a problem believing that there's racism in our healthcare in the Yukon. Your ignorance shines brightly. It's a take what you get attitude here in the small communities and I and my children have all been prejudged due to race so don't minimize the act of racism. Fact is, the staff told her to find her own ride and not until the woman was critical did they medevac her. So was there bias in treating her? It is an insult to ones intelligence to think otherwise.
How dare you minimize a ladies death and get thumbs up for it is even more gross.
How about this message - all nursing, RCMP, doctors, and teachers who come to the Yukon remember that we are a kind trusting population with a large first nation population and lots of first nation issues such as surviving residential schools and abuses of all kinds so please be open minded and willing to work without bias.

Up 18 Down 42

Brenda on Jan 25, 2020 at 4:43 am

My daughter was refused service because she came from my moms house... they said you are probably smoking pot or have been drinking we don't want you here... if it were not for people I knew she would not have gotten in to see a nurse... she was dehydrating. She knew that and has had it before.. I told the nurse I was going to sue if my daughter was not seen. This is how they treat first nations and anyone they thought might have been drinking or smoking pot... my kid by the way is very respectful.

Up 118 Down 21

this is such a farce on Jan 24, 2020 at 10:38 pm

Never would I want to be a white nurse in a FN community. You do your very best, get spit on, assaulted, belittled, etc. Too bad, so sad, someone dying of liver failure before their 30 birthday speak volumes of the alcohol abuse they put their body through. Pathetic that anyone would make a big deal out of it. Stop killing yourself with alcohol and stop blaming nurses for a preventable death.

Up 116 Down 49

Salt on Jan 24, 2020 at 4:58 pm

The premise that her death is a result of racism is profoundly absurd. Strong signal here to nurses/RCMP/teachers considering work in the Yukon.

Up 34 Down 36

JC on Jan 24, 2020 at 4:46 pm

When you're ill, you have to put your trust in those who are qualified and capable of helping you. If one has doubts about a caretaker, just take a chance anyway.

Up 94 Down 47

Bill Atkinson on Jan 24, 2020 at 3:49 pm

She was an alcoholic that had refused treatment and missed appointments several times .

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