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This article was published 7/9/2018 (504 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NORWAY HOUSE CREE NATION – Sixty-six years after its last hospital was built, a Manitoba First Nation is on the verge of becoming home to the largest Indigenous-led and controlled health centre in the province’s history.
During a community visit Friday, federal Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott announced a $100-million federal investment to help build the Norway House Cree Nation Health Centre of Excellence.
At least 200 residents gathered to hear the minister speak at the community 460 kilometres north of Winnipeg — and gave the long-awaited announcement a standing ovation.
"We see across the country that different communities have different needs, and they need to decide what will work for them. I think this is going to be a fantastic facility, and I have no doubt it will inspire other communities to determine what their needs are, and be able to be creative in preparing for delivering health care as close to peoples’ homes as possible," Philpott said.
Norway House Chief Larson Anderson was elated by the news the community has been waiting for since it started drafting building plans in 1995. He — and nearly every dignitary present — called it a "historic day."
"I think it’s about taking ownership of what you have in the community, first of all. Once you have that, then facilities such as this can become a reality, because you’ve proven to government bodies that you’re capable and ready to move forward," Anderson said.
The chief said there have been starts and stops while trying to get various levels of government to agree to funding a new health facility since the '90s. He said he is still waiting for the province to come to the table with some cash this time around.
Still, he was grateful Ottawa "let us steer the ship for a change."
Norway House enlisted Winnipeg-based LM Architectural Group to design its new building. The firm designed the city's Seven Oaks General Hospital and RBC Convention Centre.
The new facility will provide emergency, in-patient and diagnostic programs. It will also have a sweat lodge, family birthing unit, a cafeteria, and more dialysis machines.
With the current hospital fielding more than 20,000 clinic visits and 10,000 ER visits per year, senior medical advisor Adrienne Morrow has seen the need for an upgrade first-hand. She's especially excited for some women to be able to give birth in Norway House, once the new health centre is up and running.
Many women dread venturing to Winnipeg alone to give birth and some hide their pregnancies to avoid doing so, she said. There are about six to 15 emergency deliveries in the Norway House clinic every year, according to the doctor.
"Ultimately, what the community wants is a return to birthing in the community. So this new hospital will facilitate us to being able to return low-risk births," Morrow said.
Alice Bradburn has lived in Norway House all her life, but needed to fly to Winnipeg to give birth. She said the experience was "very scary" when she was eight months pregnant.
Knowing other women may no longer have to make such a journey brought tears to her eyes.
"My God, I can’t believe it. It makes me want to cry, to have our own health thing here... You can see lots of people are feeling that way now, the way I feel," Bradburn said, looking around at the crowd, many of whom were wearing hoodies bearing the new health centre's name.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas also flew north for the ceremonial groundbreaking Friday.
"I’m very happy for Norway House, but I also want this for all the First Nations in the North. It’ll happen slowly and gradually, but I believe this vision that the people have for transformative change, transformative health care, it can be a reality," Settee said.
While the province hasn't yet pledged any money to help build or maintain the health centre, Dumas said he will push the Tory government to commit soon. In June, Cross Lake First Nation also started a card-writing campaign to try to sway the province to pony up funds for its community health centre.
"We’ll bring them in kicking and screaming, you know?" Dumas said of the provincial government. "I think, fundamentally, there needs to be an accountability, and I think this hospital, this health centre in Norway House, will be a good example of that. I think that far too often the province is awarded or afforded (federal) resources on behalf of First Nations and there’s no accountability mechanisms back."
Philpott acknowledged the $100-million investment won't entirely cover the project, and Anderson did not have a final dollar-value estimation available yet.
"There will be other additional needs no doubt along the way, but the important thing is that the $100 million is ready to go and that will make this dream come true," said Philpott.
The minister said money will start flowing to the community "immediately" to get the project started.
Anderson said construction of a road to the new health-centre site is expected to start next month and he hopes the whole facility will be built within three years.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Friday, September 7, 2018 at 6:33 PM CDT: Full write through
6:45 PM: Adds photos