Northern chiefs called on the province for an apology and laws against bullying by bureaucrats after hearing allegations a family living in Winnipeg for medical treatment faced a decade of mistreatment by welfare officials.
"When a social worker tells a mother on social assistance to 'shut her legs’ because they have too many children, it is an outrage," Grand Chief David Harper, leader of the northern Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said at a press conference today.
MKO represents 30 northern First Nations, including the remote Manito Sipi Cree in northeastern Manitoba where the family, including the mother, father and 11 children, are band members. The community, 565 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has no hospital, no resident doctor and no road.
The family faced the media at the press conference but at their request, their identities weren’t disclosed and only their hands were filmed by cameras.
The mother’s medical issues triggered relocation to Winnipeg a decade ago and since then the family says they have faced a series of calamities: a car accident that temporarily left the father, a labourer, in a wheelchair, the death of a grandchild and a cancer diagnosis of their 12-year-old son.
The way the family has been treated in the past decade can’t be anything but systemic discrimination, said native leaders. They have seen their hydro and heat periodically shut off, rent payments delayed, and the boy with cancer and the dad in his wheelchair were both denied taxi slips for hospital trips, the family said.
"All of this at the hands of our EIA case workers -- people who are supposed to be there to help us overcome poverty. Instead they make us struggle and suffer unnecessarily, when all we want is a decent life for our children and our family," the mother said.
"I was shocked," said Yellowback. "In today’s age, our people are still subject to this... from a system where they are robbed of their dignity? It reminds us of the Indian residential school system and it’s still going on. It’s something that needs to change."
Provincial officials said they have opened an investigation into the family's allegations against the Employment Income Assistance workers on the case.
"Like all complaints about service at EIA offices we are taking this very seriously and are following up," a spokeswoman said by email.
"The complaint will be investigated by the department and appropriate actions taken to ensure participants are treated fairly and with respect."