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Southern chiefs join in call for aboriginal health-care review

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Laura and Donald Tssessaze are in Winnipeg seeking answers following the death of their daughter, Lisa.

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Laura and Donald Tssessaze are in Winnipeg seeking answers following the death of their daughter, Lisa. Photo Store

Aboriginal chiefs from southern Manitoba joined northern chiefs in calling for reforms to health care, in the wake of reports about the latest death on a northern Manitoba reserve that has no doctors.

The Southern Chiefs Organization, which represents 33 First Nations, issued a statement today to call for an immediate review on healthcare for First Nations.

"The recent deaths of First Nations people due to systemic barriers or poorly conceived medical decisions made by doctors demand no less," said Southern Grand Chief Murray Clearsky in the statement.

On May 27, Lisa Tssessaze, 30, , collapsed on the floor of a nursing station in the community of Lac Brochet and later died, despite desperate pleas by phone from nurses to airlift the woman to see a doctor in Thompson.

Manitoba's northern aboriginal chiefs publicized the death with the woman’s family from the Northlands Denesuline First Nation, 1,000 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. They have called for an inquest into the young mother's death and the state of northern health care.

They claim the woman died as a result of negligence on the part of at least two doctors: one in Winnipeg who removed a tracheal tube that had been in place for eight years, and another in Thompson who denied nurses' pleas for a medevac flight. It was the third reported death due to problems with northern health care in the community and one of at least three others in the north that have raised headlines across the province since 2009.

The Southern Chiefs represent communities with road access to urban centers and modern medical care but the death in Lac Brochet shocked them.

"It is apparent that these are victims of cracks in the system which is supposed to be designed to provide the highest quality of and required healthcare services for all who require medical services," the statement said.

Health care is a universal service for every Canadian and it’s also covered under treaties with First Nations under a clause known as the "Medicine Chest," the statement said.

"Section 35. Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms existing Treaty and Aboriginal Rights and contains "the Medicine Chest Clause" which is an ongoing colonial obligation pursuant to the treaties, therefore making it a constitutional obligation for Canada to provide without delay, all required medical services which preserve and enhance life in a dignified manner," the statement said.

The federal government which is responsible for providing health care services on First Nations is expected to make a comment later in the day on the death, a spokesman in Ottawa said.

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