MEDIA RELEASE: First Nations Leaders Disappointed in Partnership with the Northern Health Region
Winnipeg, MB, Treaty 1 Territory – Leaders of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Inc. (MKO) and Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, Inc. (KIM) are frustrated with the Northern Health Region and what may be an increasing number of incidents of mistreatment of First Nations people. Incidents continue to occur even with the formalization of a new relationship between the three parties, when each signed the Declaration to Eliminate All Forms of Indigenous-Specific Racism on September 26, 2022.
The latest series of incidents were brought to the attention of the Northern Health Region board and administrators by a delegation of Chiefs and KIM’s CEO, Dr Barry Lavallee during a meeting requested by the MKO, held in The Pas on March 6, 2023.
Dr Lavallee stated, “It is difficult to stay silent while observing our leaders being treated in a dismissive manner, while emotively sharing about health care related incidents – drawing from their own lives and the lives of the people they serve. They revealed the details with courage and equanimity, to draw attention to what needs to change in the northern health system. The response at first appeared supportive with platitudes about agreeing to work on the ‘relationship,’ however at one point there was laughter as one of our leaders revealed from the heart about the death of a family member. This is unacceptable behaviour and is really an example of racism exhibited at the highest level by a system lead, and unfortunately has done nothing but cause further damage to the ‘relationship.’”
While MKO and KIM expect that they will continue to work with the Northern Health Region, it has become apparent that a new health governance arrangement where First Nations take the lead is essential to real health transformation in the north.
“The physicians and nurses are tired, and they are over-worked and under-resourced which puts them in a liability position. I can understand that. We see the lack of action on these and other complaints by the Government of Canada and Manitoba as system neglect, which is racism at its most impactful because it appears as unchangeable. We won’t resign ourselves to this reality any longer. This must change,” said Chief David Monias, Pimicikamak Cree Nation, and Chair of the Keewatinohk Inniniw Okimowin Council, KIM’s governing body of elected leaders.
Lavallee added, “We are optimistic that there are those in the system who are happy to work with us towards the changes the people need in the north. I am looking forward to making a positive announcement about the work to end anti-Indigenous racism in the northern healthcare system very soon.”
MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee called for the partnership to be strengthened; “We insist the Northern Regional Health Authority work in partnership with us to develop a plan of action that addresses these issues. I still have faith in our ability to work together but will always defend our leaders and the people. They have a fundamental right to be treated with respect.”