First Nations leaders seek voice in health-care talks


Advertise with us

Frustration with the provincial and federal government was palpable on Monday during a media conference the Southern Chiefs’ Organization held to discuss grave concerns over Indigenous health care and exclusion from health care-related talks with the federal government.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

We need your support!
Local journalism needs your support!

As we navigate through unprecedented times, our journalists are working harder than ever to bring you the latest local updates to keep you safe and informed.

Now, more than ever, we need your support.

Starting at $14.99 plus taxes every four weeks you can access your Brandon Sun online and full access to all content as it appears on our website.

Subscribe Now

or call circulation directly at (204) 727-0527.

Your pledge helps to ensure we provide the news that matters most to your community!

Frustration with the provincial and federal government was palpable on Monday during a media conference the Southern Chiefs’ Organization held to discuss grave concerns over Indigenous health care and exclusion from health care-related talks with the federal government.

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which organized the media conference, represents 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations in southern Manitoba. The SCO has been lobbying the federal government to include representation from First Nations in the upcoming health-care talks between Canada’s premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but has heard nothing back from them.

“We haven’t heard any direct communication about including us in the discussion with the first ministers,” Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said.

Earlier in the meeting, Daniels said it was vital that First Nations leaders are included in the meeting, and that it’s important the prime minister and his team understand that there can be no meaningful reconciliation without representation. The meeting, set for Feb. 7, is part of Ottawa’s plan to finalize a deal on health-care funding with the provinces and territories.

“It’s absolutely paramount for the prime minister … to prioritize First Nations, to include us,” he said.

Glaring issues concerning Indigenous health have been brought to the forefront in the media recently, the chiefs who were gathered at the meeting said, including the death of Brian Sinclair in September 2008.

Sinclair, a 45-year-old Indigenous man, arrived at a Winnipeg community health centre in pain and needing assistance with his catheter bag. After being examined by a doctor, he was told he needed to visit the Health Sciences Centre emergency department for treatment of a bladder infection. The doctor gave Sinclair a note to present to the front desk at the hospital and arranged transportation for him.

Thirty-four hours later, Sinclair was discovered dead. Workers at the Health Sciences Centre said during an inquest into his death that they thought Sinclair was drunk and sleeping off his intoxication, that he had already been discharged or that he was homeless and staying in the emergency room to keep out of the elements. The report from the inquest, which was completed in 2014, concluded that Sinclair’s death was preventable.

It’s incidents like Sinclair’s death, said Chief Cornell McLean of Lake Manitoba First Nation, located 269 kilometres northeast of Brandon, that can often make Indigenous people hesitant to seek health-care treatment.

“It makes our people scared to go to the hospital because we’re not going to get the fair treatment,” he said. “People are dying in the hallways, and it shouldn’t be like that. We should be treated respectfully … and it’s been proven many times, over and over again, that the mistreatment is there.”

Indigenous people are always at the end of any list to be seen by health-care professionals, McLean said. The province told Cornell that his First Nation would have diagnostic services at the community’s health-care clinic by December, but that hasn’t happened, he added.

“I was told at one point that Minister [Audrey] Gordon would be calling me back. I still haven’t heard from her, [and] that was six weeks ago. So, you know, she must have lengthy messages that she still isn’t getting back [to me],” McLean said.

McLean’s experience highlights the issue of accountability across the health-care system, on both a provincial and federal level, said Chief Glenn Hudson of Peguis First Nation, located 352 km northeast of Brandon.

“It’s not the first time that health care and First Nations are being brought up. We need to see change … we’ve been talking about it. Let’s have some action,” Hudson said.

The Sun contacted Gordon’s press secretary to arrange an interview, but did not hear back by press time. The Sun has also made multiple requests for an interview with federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Duclos’ press secretary, Guillaume Bertrand, emailed a statement to the Sun acknowledging the unique challenges Indigenous people face with regards to health care, though he would not state whether First Nations leaders would be included in the health-care talks with the prime minister.

It’s not just the prime minister who needs to ensure First Nations are involved in discussing health-care issues in Manitoba, but also Premier Heather Stefanson, Daniels said, especially in the era of reconciliation. The premier needs to understand that working with First Nations is the only truly democratic way forward for health care, Daniels said. But so far, the provincial and federal governments have not ever meaningfully included First Nations in health-care discussions, he added, which has led to a widening disparity of health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Manitobans.

A key finding in a study by the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba and the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, which compared health data collected from 2015 to 2017 with the results of a study published in 2002, showed that the inequities between First Nations people and other Manitobans have worsened.

In the 2002 report, a First Nation person’s life expectancy was found to be about seven years lower than that of the general Manitoba population. In the newer study, that disparity has grown to about 11 years. In 2002, First Nations people’s rate of premature mortality — death before age 75 — was double that of other Manitobans. The rate is now three times that of non-First Nations Manitobans.

“When we’re talking about servicing health, and creating better outcomes, you can’t do it without First Nations leading the charge on that because our citizens are the ones who are impacted the most,” Daniels said. “We’re the ones who are experiencing terrible health outcomes. It’s a crisis.”

», with files from the Canadian Press

» Twitter: @miraleybourne

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us