As soon as instructed he would not graduate highschool, physician to be first Indigenous president-elect of CMA

2021-08-22 07:32:02

The highway has been a protracted one for Dr. Alika Lafontaine, a profitable anesthesiologist, and now the primary Indigenous president-elect of the Canadian Medical Affiliation (CMA).

From struggling in class to rocking out in a band to taking up this new duty on the CMA, he says he’s been supported each step of the best way by household and mentors.

“I am actually excited concerning the subsequent few years, concerning the alternative that I am going to must create that house […] in the identical means that folks in my dwelling life created house for me,” Lafontaine instructed CTV Information.

Lafontaine, who was born in Treaty 4 territory in southern Saskatchewan, now works at a hospital in Grande Prairie, Alta.

It hasn’t been a straightforward path. As a baby, he says he was written off by lecturers. He had a stutter, and was labelled developmentally delayed.

“After I was in grade college, I bear in mind my mother and father and I being invited into the varsity administrator’s workplace they usually sat us down,” he mentioned. “They really instructed my mother and father I would by no means graduate highschool.”

After the assembly, Lafontaine and his mother and father sat within the automotive, and his mom hugged him.

“She did it a number of occasions over the following few weeks and he or she simply type of folded me and simply whispered to me […], ‘You are not damaged, you are not damaged,’” Lafontaine mentioned.

“I believe that is an expertise that lots of racialized households went by means of throughout that timeframe. , you had been labelled with some form of drawback and because of this, there actually was no future for you.”

He mentioned when he seems again on his life, he can hint his willpower to succeed to that second.

“I can see how that is been a set off for lots of the issues that I personally wish to do, exhibiting my mother and father that I may very well be there for them, I may do these issues for them, I may change into one thing greater than what we had been instructed in that assembly.”

This month, on the CMA’s annual assembly, the place they focus on challenges and objectives for the longer term, they are going to ratify Lafontaine’s nomination, after which he’ll formally be president-elect of the CMA.

His presidency will start in August 2022.

Lafontaine’s nomination was introduced earlier this yr in a press release from the CMA, which famous that in addition to being one of many first Indigenous nominees, Lafontaine was the primary CMA president nominee who’s of Pacific Islander descent.

The affiliation highlighted within the announcement that considered one of Lafontaine’s achievements was co-leading the Indigenous Well being Alliance from 2013 to 2017, a “well being transformation challenge” involving 150 First Nations and a number of other nationwide well being organizations.


A key aspect of his success has been his mother and father’ unconditional assist, he says, which formed his life.

His mom Manusiu, an immigrant from the Pacific Islands, and father Christopher, a college teacher of Cree and Anishinaabe background, had been decided their son would exceed the low expectations his elementary lecturers had for him.

His father instructed CTV Information that they knew their son was brilliant.

“There was one thing inside, we simply knew that there was one thing we needed to carry out, to get to this potential,” he mentioned.

“That’s what we now have executed over that time frame, is to guarantee our Alika that he’s going to be advantageous, that we as mother and father will discover a answer for the issue,” his mom mentioned.

Each mother and father had skilled racism and discrimination and had been decided that Lafontaine and his 4 siblings would go into fields that will enable them to present again to their household and neighborhood, his mother even selecting out his job — “physician” — when he was nonetheless a baby.

“We do have dentist, we do have a lawyer, we do have an individual that works within the hospital, and [our] daughter is a chemist,” Manusiu mentioned proudly.

Lafontaine mentioned a part of it was the “traditional ‘wanting a physician within the household,’” however that he thinks it was additionally about having an individual they may belief who would have the ability to present medical recommendation.

“As a household with combined ancestry, there’s challenges throughout the healthcare system that we come throughout that sufferers who haven’t got that very same form of background typically take as a right,” Lafontaine mentioned.

To be able to be sure that Lafontaine would have the intense future his mother and father envisioned for him, his mom stayed dwelling and homeschooled him. He was enrolled in Tae Kwon Do, the place he would ultimately earn a black belt.

His mother and father taught him about his Pacific Island tradition and Indigenous heritage to present him a powerful sense of self.

“These are vital in his life,” his mom mentioned. “And people are issues that can assist him navigate by means of racism, if he understands himself, he feels good about himself.”

He additionally performed within the household band — known as the fifth Technology — for a few years, which gave him confidence.

“There’s nothing that helps the self value of a younger male than having a crowd of individuals screaming,” Lafontaine mentioned.

Travelling to totally different communities whereas on tour additionally helped him discover ways to relate with folks from all walks of life.

“Being within the band actually taught me to listen to and perceive folks,” he mentioned.

He nonetheless encountered struggles in his first yr of medical college. However Lafontaine credit his mentors as champions on his journey to succeed in his purpose.

“My chemistry professor, who not too long ago handed a couple of weeks in the past, [is] actually the one motive why I did a Bachelor of Science,” he mentioned.

When he was feeling low in medical college and occupied with dropping out, one other mentor launched him to the dean, who had lunch with him and inspired him to proceed.

“I am very satisfied that I’ve actually been surrounded by a set of folks that, for no matter motive, noticed me as one thing greater than I noticed myself,” Lafontaine mentioned.

“I believe me getting by means of [the hardships] had a lot to do with the folks round me.”


Fuelled by an urge to assist others, he fulfilled his mom’s want to change into a physician.

However by means of his work, he continued to expertise and listen to about troubling tales, together with mistreatment of Indigenous sufferers within the well being system.

He even noticed his brother — dentist Dr. Kamea Lafontaine — battle to get applicable care in hospital for a critical situation.

In a sobering dialog, his brother mentioned to him: “On the finish of the day, would not matter my schooling, it would not matter, what I do for the neighborhood, or my fame.

“After I placed on that robe. I turned simply one other Indian.”

The dialog was a catalyst for change, prompting them to launch Safespace — an internet site and app the place sufferers can anonymously report racism of their medical care. The Safespace Networks pilot challenge additionally partnered with friendship centres in B.C.

Dr. Michael Kirlew, a doctor and pal of Lafontaine, mentioned Lafontaine’s work is important.

“We have now points with systemic racism in healthcare system, we see systemic racism within the legal justice system, within the academic system, I believe Alika is the suitable individual for the job […] to carry the Canadian Medical Affiliation to the following degree,” he mentioned.

“He’s so obsessed with folks, so obsessed with bettering well being outcomes for all, and he backs up that zeal with not solely phrases, however with actions.”

Lafontaine is aware of his voice issues much more as he takes the helm of the CMA.

And he’s coming into the job with clear objectives.

He mentioned it’s vital to cope with “not simply racism but additionally sexism, and classism, ableism, and all of the totally different ways in which we disempower sufferers and colleagues.”

He additionally desires to take a look at how we deal with people who work in drugs.

One of many points with speaking about “healthcare heroes,” as we now have realized all through the pandemic, is how dehumanizing that type of regard may be.

“Packaged in with that’s this concept that it is okay for somebody to sacrifice every little thing that they’re to be able to preserve the system sustainable,” he mentioned, including that he desires to take a look at “how can we alter work environments to be able to lower burnout.”

He mentioned that being Indigenous permits him to carry a singular perspective, but it surely’s not the one factor he brings.

“However much more importantly, as a result of I have been disempowered by in my life. I understand how to create house,” he mentioned. “I perceive tips on how to amplify other people who wish to share their experiences, however perhaps do not know the way.”

And as he prepares for the brand new problem of advocating for medical doctors and Canadian well being care within the midst of a pandemic, he’s trying in the direction of the longer term.

“I believe management is actually about creating the following leaders,” he mentioned. “I am actually excited concerning the subsequent few years, concerning the alternative that I am going to must create that house in the identical means that folks in my dwelling life created house for me.”

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