Two out of three at health-care table not good enough
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Great things happen when Indigenous communities have control over their own affairs, be it in health care, child welfare or economic development.
One need look no further than the successful vaccine rollout by Manitoba First Nations during the COVID-19 pandemic to see how health-care autonomy in Indigenous communities produces superior results.
Knowing that, it’s appalling Indigenous leaders have not been given a seat at the table for the Feb. 7 health-care conference in Ottawa between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the provincial premiers.
The Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team was widely credited for high levels of vaccination rates among the Indigenous population. It achieved those results in large part because of its insight and knowledge of its own communities.
Not only did Indigenous leaders navigate culturally sensitive issues among their people, such as an historical distrust of government medical interventions, they overcame significant logistical challenges in executing the roll out. It’s a great success story that probably hasn’t received the recognition it deserves.
It’s appalling Indigenous leaders have not been given a seat at the table for the Feb. 7 health-care conference in Ottawa between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the provincial premiers.
It also serves as a glowing example of why self-determination is so important in delivering public services in Indigenous communities. It works.
It’s the same reason child welfare is (slowly) being transferred to Indigenous communities under new federal legislation, which allows First Nations to receive services from their own communities. Peguis First Nation is set to become the first Indigenous community in Manitoba to take over child welfare under the new law.
Self-determination for Indigenous communities has also been an important aspect of economic and social developments — such as Naawi-Oodena in Winnipeg, the landmark project on 108 acres of land at the former Kapyong barracks along Kenaston Boulevard. It will be the largest Indigenous economic development zone in Canada.
Indigenous health and wellness requires that level of self-governance.
It’s well-documented Indigenous people do not receive equal levels of service from mainstream providers and often face institutional racism when seeking medical care. They also experience disproportionately worse health-care outcomes than non-Indigenous people.
It’s well-documented Indigenous people do not receive equal levels of service from mainstream providers and often face institutional racism when seeking medical care.
Finding solutions to those challenges has to start with Indigenous communities having greater control over their own health-care structures. That’s why it’s important for them to be treated as equal partners in health care — including having a seat at the table when first ministers discuss funding and other aspects of health-care delivery.
So far, they’ve been denied that right.
The federal government argues it already engages with Indigenous communities at various levels to improve health-care services. That’s called lip service.
What First Nations leaders, like those from Manitoba’s Southern Chiefs’ Organization (who held a news conference Monday demanding a seat at the first ministers conference), rightly point out is Indigenous communities need to be part of the high-level decision making process. They can’t be an afterthought, as they have been for decades, while their services deteriorate.
Indigenous leaders should be at the table to discuss their priorities and have a dialogue with the federal and provincial governments on how to assume greater control of services in their communities.
Health-care accords should not be the exclusive domain of the provinces and the federal government. Discussions around the Canada Health Act, Canada Health Transfer and how resources are allocated to Indigenous communities should be discussed by all three parties, not two out of three.
That’s what reconciliation is all about. First Nations didn’t relinquish their right to govern themselves when they signed treaties with the Crown a century-and-a-half ago. They agreed to live together in peaceful co-existence with newcomers and to share the land and resources equitably.
Having control over their own affairs is, and always has been, part of the deal.
If the prime minister and provincial premiers were serious about reconciliation, they would invite Indigenous leaders to pull up a chair at next week’s first ministers meeting and acknowledge there are other partners in the room.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.