First Nations must be included in health-care meetings with premiers, PM: Southern Chiefs’ Organization

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization says it wants to be at the upcoming meeting between the federal government and provinces as they discuss health-care funding.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week that he will host a meeting in Ottawa on Feb. 7 as his government looks to finalize a deal on health-care funding with the provinces.

The grand chief of the southern Manitoba organization says First Nations must be represented too.

“It’s absolutely vital to First Nations leadership that we are included … that we have our own funding and we have our own partnerships, that we can come to the table to discuss this,” said Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels during a Monday press conference.

Daniels and other chiefs have concerns about the current state of health care in the province and how it affects the nearly three dozen southern Manitoba First Nations that are part of his organization.

Pinaymootang First Nation Chief Kurvis Anderson said leaders in his First Nation have been asked to act as advocates for members, who say they don’t receive adequate health care, but not being included in health-care conversations creates a barrier to doing so.

“What good is an advocate that’s in the backroom in an office, that has no voice, no authority, or no power to make change there?” Anderson said at Monday’s news conference.

First Nations leaders need to be able to “direct health for our citizens.”

“It’s important that the prime minister and his team understand that you can’t expect to create meaningful change and say you’re about reconciliation if First Nations are not at the table,” Daniels said.

‘Unique challenges’ to health-care access

The Feb. 7 meeting comes after months of negotiations between the provinces and the federal government over an increase to health transfers.

The premiers had demanded a face-to-face meeting with Trudeau to press him for a multibillion-dollar increase to that funding.

Last week, both the national Assembly of First Nations and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said they were “dismayed” First Nations were being excluded from the upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers.

“There is no reconciliation for First Nations when we continue to be excluded from these crucial discussions and decision-making processes,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in a Jan. 25 news release, following Trudeau’s announcement of the meeting.

“Our people don’t have access to services and care the same as non-First Nations. We expect and demand to be at the table every step of the way from beginning to end,” Cameron said in the release.

Asked last week for a response, the Prime Minister’s Office referred the request to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

A statement from his office sent to CBC said Indigenous people in Canada “face unique challenges when it comes to having fair and equitable access to quality and culturally safe health-care services,” and that the government must continue working “to properly address these gaps.”

The statement did not say whether Indigenous leaders will be included in the talks.

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