UPDATED – the inevitable: Aboriginal rights trump necessary treatment for child with leukemia in Canada

A sad but expected ending to this story about a child who refused treatment for leukemia.

Makayla Sault, girl who refused chemo for leukemia, dies

Makayla Sault, the 11-year-old girl who refused chemotherapy to pursue traditional indigenous medicine and other alternative treatments, has died.

She died Monday after suffering a stroke Sunday.

In an interview with CBC News, her mother said, “This was not a frivolous decision I made. Before I took her off chemo, I made sure that I had a comprehensive health-care plan that I was very confident that was going to achieve ridding cancer of her body before I left the hospital. This is not something I think may work, this is something I know will work.”

Wishful thinking doesn’t heal, sadly.

Thanks to Jamie, Alex and Aaron for the update.

Originally published November 14, 2014

The headline may be all people will read but the subtitle says it all: 1 child with leukemia has relapsed and is critically ill. The decision means children will die.

‘Doctor’ treating First Nations girls says cancer patients can heal themselves.

A Florida health resort licensed as a “massage establishment” is treating a young Ontario First Nations girl with leukemia using cold laser therapy, Vitamin C injections and a strict raw food diet, among other therapies.

The mother of the 11-year-old girl, who can not be identified because of a publication ban, says the resort’s director, Brian Clement, who goes by the title “Dr.,” told her leukemia is “not difficult to treat.”

Another First Nations girl, Makayla Sault, was also treated at Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach and is now critically ill after a relapse of her leukemia.

Clement, a naturopath, declined to provide info for the story.

The mother removed the unnamed 11-year-old girl from McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton where she was getting chemotherapy. Doctors gave her a 90 to 95 per cent chance of survival. But the mom fell prey to the naturopathic quackery, saying she believes chemotherapy is “poison” (that’s what KILLS the cancer!) and instead chose “a combination of traditional indigenous medicine and alternative therapies”. That flips the odds from survival to mortality. The case went to a judge to rule if the child would be taken from the family for treatment. He dismissed the case.

A judge ruled today that the native family has a right to chose this path.

“I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the Applicant’s stated course of treatment of chemotherapy,” Edward said, as he read his ruling aloud.

Edward, citing the testimony of two McMaster Children’s Hospital doctors, agreed the child wasn’t capable of making her own medical decisions. But he found it was the mother’s aboriginal rights — which he called “integral” to the family’s way of life — allow her to choose traditional medicine for her daughter.

Is this decision deference to her status as “aboriginal”? Would the same decision have been made if it was a different religious basis? Regardless, the child’s life is at stake. Do such rights of the parents trump access to standard of care? This is a disturbing situation.

“This is monumental,” said Laforme. “It reaffirms our right to be Indian and to practise our medicines in the traditional way.”

And to ignore modern medicine. The doctors were unaware of anyone who survived this type of leukemia without treatment. Therefore, odds are, she will die.

Tip: Perry Bulwer

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  43 comments for “UPDATED – the inevitable: Aboriginal rights trump necessary treatment for child with leukemia in Canada

  1. Cameron
    November 14, 2014 at 2:26 PM

    As a Canadian I am deeply disturbed by this, and confused. Disturbing because the mother has basically signed her daughter’s death warrant, confused because this is contrary to what Canadian law usually does in these cases. If it was a parent doing this for religious reasons the government would have taken the kid, but because the mother is First Nation it trumps everything else. Due to a long horrible history between the government of Canada and First Nations communities many very crazy concessions have been made to the First Nations, all while the Canadian government continues to screw them in other ways. Just sad.

  2. Perry Bulwer
    November 14, 2014 at 2:46 PM

    “Is this decision deference to her status as “aboriginal”?”

    I’ve been following these cases closely. I haven’t read this latest decision yet, but my understanding is that yes, the decision was based on Aboriginal rights which are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The excerpts from the decision I’ve read indicate to me that the judge felt constrained by those Charter rights.

    The parents claimed their Aboriginal rights included the right to use traditional medicines. But in those news reports, the girl was being treated with both Aboriginal traditional medicine and with unproven modern ‘therapies’ such as vitamin C injection. So, one thing I’m interested in reading in the decision is whether or not the court considered that fact, and if so, why did the Aboriginal right still hold even though non-Aboriginal treatments were part of the ‘therapy’.

    Aboriginal rights, or Indigenous rights, are the subject of many legal cases and the law is rapidly changing due to some recent Canadian Supreme Court decisions. This adds to that case law.

    As an advocate and activist for both Indigenous rights and children’s rights, I have very mixed feelings about this. My gut feeling at the moment falls on the side of child protection, but this is a very complicated issue. In at least one of the cases, the court considered the opinions of the child, taking into consideration her age and capacity for understanding and decision-making. Determining whether the child can give fully and freely informed medical consent can be a difficult task. That’s why my preliminary thought, without having read the decision, is that the child’s rights trump the parent’s rights. But I need to read the decision to see how Aboriginal rights intersected with those two other rights, and why they trumped the child’s right to medical care that would certainly save her life.

    • Colonel Tom
      November 14, 2014 at 5:28 PM

      The child and child’s mother are Kanien’kehá:ka, they are mothers of the Six Nations and this is a matter for their nation, clan and kin. Canada has no right to interfere, the mother has presented her case before the appropriate councils and Sisters, and no matter the fact that there decision is wrong, Canada has no more right to interfere in Six Nations internal affairs than a fish has the right to tell a bird to fly.

      There may be more recent news from a reliable old blood source, but compare the way an NDN matter is presented in EuroAmerican press verses an Old Blood publication.

    • November 15, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      Thanks Perry. That’s what I thought. Wrong but a very complicated “wrong”. Life is like that.

      • Perry Bulwer
        November 16, 2014 at 3:03 PM

        Here’s an opinion on this case from a professor of ethics and medical ethics consultant:

        “First Nations children not well served by chemotherapy ruling: Arthur Schafer”

        In life-threatening cases, ‘our courts should take the child’s best interest as the deciding criterion’


        • Colonel Tom
          November 16, 2014 at 4:31 PM

          Were not the exact same words used when Canada was attempting cultural genocide with Canada’s Residential School System and implementation of the Indian Act. Were the pious men of Canadian society were not saying the exact same thing as they brought in their thugs to tear families apart. I do not wish to argue with you about the extent and degree that children suffer under Canadian law, how many forced sterilizations were performed, who children were deprived of their language, there families, their cultural. Thus, her nation has had their hearts hardened of the benevolence of the dominant society .

          Again, the statement was made that first child was ill which matches neither the statement from her doctor or any person actually involved with the case. She is suffering from kidney failure and MRSA obtained during the initial treatment, she is brave but brave is not always enough. There may be an assumption that fever in indicative of a relapse but to arrive at that assumption means that her M.D. can not be trusted if also an NDN. Nor should anyone think that her personal M.D. does not recommend that she take the chemohell, he does.

          Also, if you would be skeptical and check survival rates for AAL, While it does depend upon cell type and many other factors, actually being Native American is a factor that degrades survivability, I can find no sources where chances of surviving the two to three years of treatment would lead to a survivability of 95%. Even then, almost all of the EuroCanadian sources fail to mention that long term survivability fall to 30-40%. (www.cancer.gov, http://www.webmd, http://www.lls.org/#/diseaseinformation/getinformationsupport/factsstatistics/
          They are a five year survival rate, not a cure. When your article attempts to emotionally manipulate readers by converting clear cut situation, it loses moral authority.

          What EuroCanadians refuse to understand is that the only government authority that has jurisdiction over these children are their tribal governments. Ontario does not. If you wish to force the child’s family to provide the needed treatment than you need petition their tribal leaders with logic and compassion. So far, my voice has not been enough.

          • Perry Bulwer
            November 16, 2014 at 5:33 PM

            “When your article attempts to emotionally manipulate readers by converting clear cut situation, it loses moral authority.”

            First, it is not my article. I merely provided the link to add to the conversation to help people make up their own minds about this.

            Second, I think you are making assumptions about me and my position on these cases.

            My brother and one of my sisters are survivors of the Sixties Scoop, an extension of the Indian Residential Schools. They were torn from their families and communities by the Canadian government’s long-standing assimilation policies. They are Indigenous, as are nine of my nephews and nieces. I attended two days of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in my home town, site of one of the more notorious schools that conducted experiments on Indigenous children that amounted to torture. I made both a written and oral submission that spoke to that issue of the Sixties Scoop as it affected my own family. I have also done much front line activism, including speaking to a parliamentary committee, on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. I consider myself an ally of the Idle No More movement, which was started and led by strong Indigenous women.

            As my original comment here stated, I am both an Indigenous rights advocate and a children’s rights advocate. These legal cases are about the conflict of competing rights: children’s, parents’ and Indigenous peoples’. Wherever there is a conflict of rights, the matter is complicated. It is even more complicated where a child’s life is at risk. And beyond the conflict of rights here, there is a conflict of values, further complicating matters.

            I have tried to be cautious with my comments here, since I have not read the the legal decision yet, but my first impulse is always to consider issues affecting children’s rights from the perspective of the child first before considering the parents’ rights or the state’s interests, in other words, what are the best interests of the child. What is at dispute in these cases is precisely that, what are the best interests of the child and who gets to make that decision.

            You make valid points, but I think you are trying to argue with the wrong person, Colonel.

            • Colonel Tom
              November 16, 2014 at 9:48 PM

              I meant your article only so much as it was a tool that you chose to advance your view, or the article presented by you. Everything I see written is so unbalanced, as I read them I am reminded of what is called the Crisis of Oka. I would not wish to see another Oka, yet this incident has started the red song again.

              The parallels between this in Oka trouble my drug dulled mind, in both cases there were EuroCanadians that were so deaf to the cries of the People of the Longhouse that it took toumahauks to open their ears. Even a fallen one such as myself is kept informed, I get at least a dozen emails a day. Rumours are spinning out of control, the warriors may once again rise. Even cautious voices look at the protection under Article 24 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and then look at the behavior at McMaster, what is the point of the rule of law if Canada only follows it when it suits them.

              If you know the people of the Six Nations at all, you know that when they feel like there is no other option, that they will go for an honourable death. Both the local leaders and others throughout the nations tried to negotiate, as the saying goes, with open heart and humble words. Yet, the Canadian court system wouldn’t even offer days of recess for the Green Corn Festival nor even for the funeral day of a former chief. Just unbelievable. So moderate voices were silenced, she will attempt to heal with Onongwatri:yo. This is sadness.


              P.S. I am actually banned from entering Canada.

  3. November 14, 2014 at 3:14 PM

    The judge is an idiot. There’s nothing “traditional” abouit Vitamin C injections. Basically, he’s rubber-stamped a parent’s right to kill a child out of ignorance fueled by charlatans.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy
      November 14, 2014 at 9:22 PM

      Maybe it’s White Guilt.

      A lot of non-White politicians where I am got a LOT of mileage out of White constituents who were pee-their-pants afraid they’d be called a RACIST! RACIST! RACIST!

  4. Graham
    November 14, 2014 at 6:31 PM

    So Clement stated that leukemia is ‘not difficult to treat’. Probably true, although to be successful is a whole nother question.
    A legal decision is not necessarily a just decision.

  5. Karin
    November 14, 2014 at 7:43 PM

    Way to “respect” these people’s rights and kill them off at the same time, Judge. Is it a problem with me if I can’t help seeing implicit malicious intent in these cases?

  6. busterggi
    November 14, 2014 at 9:07 PM

    “cold laser therapy, Vitamin C injections” – these are traditional first nations medical treatments?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy
      November 14, 2014 at 9:20 PM

      Maybe if you’re Shirley MacLaine…

  7. Colonel Tom
    November 14, 2014 at 11:44 PM

    Makayla Sault has not had a relapse of leuk, and one has to wonder at the willingness of the EuroCanadian press willingness to publish false reports.


    This children are citizens of their respective nations, they are receiving care and monitoring by physicians, and were never subject to the jurisdiction of the province. They are subject to laws of their respective First Nations, and with respect to the Haudenosaunee child she is subject to the will of her nation and her clan. While this issue has been passionately debated, well all Haudenosaunee debates are passionate, the Six Nations council, her nation, her clan and her mother have made their decision. If the McMaster Children’s Hospital had honestly presented their concerns, had they made attempts to deal with the woman’s clan, if they had told the truth then the resolution might have been different. It is a shame, as they have better monitoring facilities than available than those at the Haudenosaunee clinic, but they have decided to act like spoiled children that did not get their way.

    • November 15, 2014 at 2:57 PM

      Whoa! Just because the Chief says she is doing fine does not mean she IS.

      • Colonel Tom
        November 15, 2014 at 3:41 PM

        They have not been able to contain the MRSA she contracted during the chemotherapy. I do not wish to speak of her chances to survive there is always a chance that one of her kin or clan would be pained by my words. However, her WBC and WCD are still good. She is a very brave child, she does honour to her family and her clan,

        I have very low expectations that a “Chief” would be mistaken in this. Outside of one cancer specialist that has not seen the patient in six months I am unaware that anyone is reporting that she has had a relapse. I understand the odds are that she will, but I have no sources that she has, yet.

    • Colonel Tom
      November 15, 2014 at 1:06 PM

      The child is sick, she has a major septic infection, but if she dies it will be the septic infection. As much as anything, such infections are way too common in children that have been treated for leukemia. Also, that is why those high survival rates quoted in the EuroCanadian papers are very misleading. Your link talks about painful treatment, dismissing the findings of NDN doctors that she has permanent damage from the chemo. Her mother and the Mothers decided that rather than risk further kidney and liver damage they’d not take a second round of chemo. Her clan is concerned she would not have survived a second round. Pray you never have to make a similar decision. Having watched my first beloved one die rather than to kill her child yet born, I can assure that the ill informed opinions of outsiders are just so appreciated by the family.

      You still continue to complete misunderstand the court decisions, this is not about “rights”, it is about jurisdiction. These children are citizens of First Nations, as such decisions for old bloods are the domain of tribal councils, etc. In the cause of the Haudenosaunee it would be the women of her mother’s clan that would have final say over this issue. If she is to be compelled to take treatment, it must come through the germane government, not because a bunch of conservative EuroCanadians want to overturn First Citizen rights.

      Traditional medicines and such have nothing to do with the issue, that is just a red herring that so many are willing to bite. As her mother is Christian and not a traditionalist or follower of Handsome Lake, it is a question of jurisdiction, Ontario has no more right to order this child than a politician from New Brunswick. She is a daughter of the Haundenosaunee, the Six Nations, and they have authority over this matter. This is almost repeating like another Oka, except this time with less fire arms. Had the EuroCanadian orginization negotiated in good faith, had compromise have been offered, than may be no one would have had to die.

      I do not concur with the mother’s and the mother’s clan decision, but I would defend them with what little life and breath I still draw.

      You might think that

      • WMcCreery
        November 15, 2014 at 2:56 PM

        I have had a loved one die from leukemia, my brother, and I KNOW that he only lived as long as he did because of western medicine!! The family has only prolonged the pain of this child. I have no problem with someone stepping in trying to save this child from the families bad decisions.

      • November 15, 2014 at 2:59 PM

        I didn’t write the link. I just posted it as information. I understand jurisdiction which was implicit in the post regarding her status. Don’t talk down to me or assume, please.

        • Colonel Tom
          November 15, 2014 at 3:31 PM

          If I have talked down to you that was not my intent. My experience with most EuroAmericans and EuroCanadians is that they are woefully and often deliberately ignorant of the status of First Citizens in Canada and the U.S. I would not expect you to have read Jay’s treaty nor the 54 other treaties between the Six Nations, the Crown and the United States. I have seen so much ignorance on this subject that I am likely conditioned to be biased that my listening audience is unfamiliar with Six Nation history and legal system. From reading comments on the various news articles my low expectation are not being met.

          The difference between the First Nation reporting and that being reported in the EuroCanadian press is greatly disturbing and I fear I may be losing complete control of my emotional responses to this issue. Plus I had surgery yesterday, I am on happy pills (Percs) for the pain, and likely am not my normal sober self. I have disagreed with several of your comments, been puzzled by many others, but such is to be expected in any human interaction. My intent was no sleight, my words were not sung to invoke anger.

      • Harrow
        November 16, 2014 at 11:09 PM

        Thank you Colonel Tom for that informative post. Because of you I now understand that this is not a case of willfully ignorant people rejecting modern medicine in favor of a witch doctor, but a case of cancer patients (via their guardians) declining further invasive treatment as worse than the disease, and then seeking palliative care from an appropriate institution.

        Shame on CBCNews for attempting to make me angry so I’ll accept their calumny against “Dr.” Brian Clement without considering that there may be more to the story than they’re ready to tell me.

        • Colonel Tom
          November 17, 2014 at 12:02 PM

          Harrow, this is a very complicated subject. The quack they went to in Florida took a chunk of tribal funds and promised magic, I have as likely as much contempt for the Florida clinic as My Idoubtit has, if not more because they are so much closer to my heart. Nor would I have discontinued the “modern medicine treatment”. I’d have done traditional healing and prayers, helped the child prepare for the pain, and continued on the treatment. With this chemo treatment the first phase is always the worse, the next three years of chemohell would have not been so hellish. The liver can sometimes recover, the kidney should recover but even then there are transplants and dialysis. If it were my child, and I pray to Peacemaker that I never need to make the choice. I just wanted people to understand that while the child and her female elders might have made bad decisions, it was not done absent all reason. Some of those reasons are wrapped in the sins of the EuroCanadians recent treatment of the Old bloods, acts of past cruelty often poison future trust.

          Many years ago, my first beloved one was given the choice of going on chemo or to attempt to give birth to the life yet unborn that she carried. I did not agree with her decision, but the decision was not mine to make.

          • January 20, 2015 at 8:21 AM

            Pediatric oncologists gave Makayla a 70-75% chance of surviving with proper treatment. That is actually lower than most pediatric hematologic malignancies (usually 85-90%) because her type of lymphoblastic leukemia was Philadelphia chromosome-positive. Of course, 75% is still way better than zero, which was Makayla’s chance of survival once she and her family abandoned science-based medicine in favor of Brian Clement’s quackery.

            I doubt that any of us here would have an objection to doing traditional healing and prayers to help a child through the side effects of chemotherapy. There’s not really any good evidence that it does anything objectively to help, but if it makes it easier for her, who are we to say no, unless we know that something being done interferes with the chemotherapy.

            Regarding Brian Clement, here is the scope of his pure quackery in a post I wrote over a year ago:


            In my opinion, the man is pure evil, a con artist with blood on his hands.

        • January 20, 2015 at 8:28 AM

          Because of you I now understand that this is not a case of willfully ignorant people rejecting modern medicine in favor of a witch doctor, but a case of cancer patients (via their guardians) declining further invasive treatment as worse than the disease, and then seeking palliative care from an appropriate institution.

          This was not palliative care. There is nothing in what the family pursued that could have been expected to palliate the girl’s suffering and ease her death. In fact, as well-meaning as they were, their actions almost certainly led directly to Makayla suffering far more than she needed to.

  8. lawn
    November 15, 2014 at 12:43 PM

    They will soon be able to put on a traditional aboriginal funeral service.

    • Colonel Tom
      November 15, 2014 at 1:16 PM

      No, it would be a Christian burial, not a traditional returning of the flesh to the world.

  9. Tim Lewellyn
    November 15, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    This is about superstition,pseudoscience and snake oil salesmen. There is a whole regiment of proven and appropriate treatment described by modern medicine. To throw the science of modern medicine out the window for superstitution and pseudoscience is child abuse. The child should be removed from the care of it’s ignorant parent and tribe.
    And those are the facts.

    • November 15, 2014 at 3:00 PM

      That is overly simplifying the situation. It’s far more complicated than that.

      • Tim Lewellyn
        November 15, 2014 at 3:14 PM

        Please! Explain away?
        The childs welfare is leaps and bounds above anyone else’s silly ass beliefs, be they superstition, pseudoscience or some kind of supposed parental indigenous right to abuse a child.

  10. PagaRoobits
    January 19, 2015 at 10:29 PM

    It would appear that children have no inherent right to survive their parents superstitions.

  11. Elizabeth
    January 20, 2015 at 4:17 AM

    Asked and answered. A trained doctor said it was relapse from the leukemia that killed the girl. Of course the parents responsible for her death would blame it on anything but their own actions. To do otherwise would most likely make the guilt unbearable. Any other child would have been removed from the parents’ custody and treated and would have had a much better chance of survival. It’s a shame that a human being died because nobody wanted to step on the toes of a tribe.

    • Lawrence
      January 20, 2015 at 4:55 AM

      Again, I don’t understand the original ruling…if the parents had resolved to use traditional, Native treatments, that’s one thing to respect the culture, but in this case, they went to a massage therapist in Florida…WTF?

      My heart goes out to, well, damn, I wish this girl hadn’t died.

  12. Lancelot Gobbo
    January 20, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    I don’t agree for a moment that the Canadian governments (provincial or federal) have no jurisdiction in such a case. To say it is only a matter for tribal authority is nonsense, and effectually removes them from the rights and benefits they have as Canadian citizens. What concerns me most is that we have a legal precedent here that will make it more likely that Canadian aboriginal children in this situation will, in effect, be treated as second class citizens. If she had not been aboriginal when she went into that courtroom she would not have been condemned to this death by a judge who possibly cared more for upsetting a legal applecart than for the well-being of the child. I understand chemo isn’t pleasant (believe me, I am a physician who is currently receiving chemo for leukemia – it’s not fun but it beats the alternative), but to let a child die unnecessarily is unforgivable. To do it simply because she is First Nations is racist. To do both is not something that should happen in my Canada.
    This is a disgrace that reflects badly on us. Let down by parents who were unable to act in her best interests and let down by a legal system that respected the fact she was aboriginal more than her right to live. Any other aboriginal child in the same predicament know must know that the court system will not save them from an untimely death, while it would do so if they were of any other race. Justice Ontario – doing their bit for genocide.

    • WMcCreery
      January 21, 2015 at 12:34 PM

      Well said!! Chemo is scary and painful but it works!!

  13. Fentmore
    January 20, 2015 at 4:51 PM

    Somebody, please define “traditional.” Do indigenous people drive automobiles, ride trains, use plumbing and electricity?

    • Perry
      January 20, 2015 at 7:24 PM

      In Canadian law, when an Indigenous right is recognized based on traditional activities, exercising that right is not necessarily restricted to traditional methods for conducting that activity. For example, if a particular Indigenous group (tribe, band, First Nations, etc.) has the right to hunt or fish in their traditional territory, they are not restricted to hunting only using traditional methods. They can use modern methods such as guns and motorboats. How that legal principle plays out in this case is complicated by several factors and may not make sense to most people, but the court (a lower court) felt bound by that principle, at least that’s how I understand the legal decision.

  14. Tony
    January 20, 2015 at 4:52 PM

    What the heck do “massage establishments” in Florida have to do with First Nations’ “traditional indigenous medicine” anyway?

  15. January 20, 2015 at 10:31 PM

    To clear up some misunderstanding, Maykala Sault was not a Mohawk, known in their own language as Kanien’kehá:ka, part of the Six Nations or Haudenosaunee. Her parents are actually Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, an Ojibwa nation, which is not culturally similar to the Haudenosaunee, although they do live on a reserve that is close to the Six Nations reserve near Brantford. The other girl suffering from cancer, who cannot be identified by court order, is Mohawk.

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