The Saskatoon Health Region has apologized to Indigenous women who felt coerced into surgery that prevented them from bearing more children.
The agency commissioned an independent report earlier this year after women complained they were pressured by medical staff and social workers after giving birth in hospital to have a tubal ligation, a procedure that involves clamping or severing the Fallopian tubes.
"I'm sorry that you were not treated with the respect, the compassion and all of the support that you needed and deserved," Jackie Mann, a health region vice-president, said Thursday.
"No woman should ever be treated the way you were treated."
Women came forward to the media in the fall of 2015.
The health region failed the women and the report is a call to do better, Mann said as she choked back tears.
"This report states that racism exists within our health-care system and we as leaders acknowledge this."
The report was penned by two Indigenous health experts who are of Metis descent. Yvonne Boyer is a lawyer and Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Health and Wellness at Brandon University, while Judith Bartlett is a physician and former University of Manitoba professor.
The authors invited women to share their experiences of having an operation they didn't want. Boyer and Bartlett interviewed seven women, some of whom described feeling powerless, invisible and discriminated against.
"Most of the women did not understand that tubal ligation was permanent, thinking it was a form of birth control that could be reversed in the future," they wrote.
Some said they have been reluctant to see doctors since their surgeries – a big concern in a community with high rates of cervical cancer and diabetes.
Some said romantic relationships fell apart after their partners found out they could never get pregnant again.
Most said it felt as if they had lost part of their womanhood.
"Something's been taken away from me, and this is a gift," one is quoted in the report as saying. "The doctor took away my gift."
Leanne Smith, the health region's director of maternal services, said changes were made to consent procedures after the first woman came forward, but more needs to be done.
"While some people may want a tubal ligation, it must be free and informed consent – and that wasn't the case in these situations," Smith said.
"What we learned from the report is that we need to revisit our tubal ligation policy using a more collaborative approach, engaging with those most impacted by the policy."
Boyer and Bartlett have suggested cultural training and an intensive support centre for vulnerable pregnant Indigenous women.
They have also called on the health region to work out compensation for each woman individually.
"We will work ... to understand what they need to heal, what they need to make themselves whole in this situation," said Smith "It's different for everyone."
Chief Bobby Cameron with Saskatchewan's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said what happened to the women is horrific.
"They need to go to these families and say, 'We apologize. We're sorry for what we've done to you. How can we work together to ensure that you heal, or what kind of compensation can we offer to you as a family?"' The provincial government said the report provides valuable insight into the experiences of Indigenous women in Saskatchewan's health system and "will be integral in helping guide us in the right direction for the future."