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Indigenous leaders want seat at health-care reform talks

'I’m very disappointed that we’re not there and that they’re advocating on our behalf when really our First Nation leaders should be there,' says grand chief
Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Alison Linklater talks at a news conference Feb. 7, 2023, while Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus looks on.

As the country's top politicians sit down to talk about health-care reform, Indigenous leaders are looking for a seat at the table. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is meeting with provincial and territorial premiers today to work on a new health funding deal. The premiers are looking for a substantial increase in the federal government's healthcare funding to the provinces and territories.

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief RoseAnne Archibald wrote to the Prime Minister asking to be at the discussions. The request was denied, however, she was assured by cabinet ministers that the federal government would "advocate" for First Nations' health priorities, according to the AFN.

Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus, Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Alison Linklater and Kashechewan Chief Gaius Wesley held a news conference this morning pushing for Indigenous inclusion in health-care negotiations. They all support the discussions taking place. 

“If Canadians are just discovering that there’s a crisis in healthcare, Indigenous communities have been living this reality for years and the exclusion of Indigenous participation in talking about the systemic inequities is simply not acceptable,” said Angus.

The chiefs gave insight into some of the challenges remote communities face. 

Linklater talked about what Peawanuck went through last week. A 10-year-old girl was killed in a house fire and a family was displaced.

“The nursing station went through a low supply of oxygen during that time, which should not have happened. We should have learned what happened in 2016 in Webequie First Nation where they ran out of oxygen and one of their members passed away soon after,” she said.

In the fall, Kashechewan faced a nursing shortage. 

There were only three nurses to care for the community that has about 2,000 people, said Wesley. Earlier this year, children with RSV waited five to 10 days before they were brought south for proper treatment. 

He also shared the story of a man who relocated to Timmins to be closer to the hospital to access services for his complex health issues.

Non-insured Health Benefits (NIHB) denied his travel and accommodation request for an appointment in Sudbury because he was living off-reserve, said Wesley.

"You know these systems that are in place (don't) recognize the inequities, the challenges our people face because of remoteness. A lot of our people have died because of the system that the government continues to operate on reserves,” he said.

Not being part of the discussion is disappointing for Linklater.

“They don’t have the experience, they don’t have the knowledge and they’re not Indigenous, they’re not First Nations. I’m very disappointed that we’re not there and that they’re advocating on our behalf when really our First Nation leaders should be there. That’s what I’m worried about, are they going to fix us again?” said Linklater.

For any funding, Angus said it has to be equitable. 

“Equitable in a Northern community isn’t the same as equitable in Mississauga because you also have to deal with the huge cost of getting supplies there. If the federal government wants to talk about a new relationship, the money has to be on the table. That’s what the provinces are saying, the provinces are saying we want to see money on the table — that’s what all this discussion is about,” said Angus.