First Nations leaders declare public health emergency

Posted Feb 24, 2016 by Karen Graham
First Nation leaders from northern Ontario declared a public health emergency on Wednesday, citing a shortage of basic medical supplies and an epidemic of suicides among young people.
According to Vice  nearly a quarter of  First Nations communities administered by Health Canada are ...
According to Vice, nearly a quarter of First Nations communities administered by Health Canada are currently without clean water. This is a screen grab from a video made in October, 2015.
In a plea for help, The Daily Courier reported that Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon of the Mushkegowuk Council said, "We are in a state of shock," as he wiped away tears. "When is enough? It is sad. Waiting is not an option anymore. We have to do something."
The declaration is calling on the federal and provincial governments to address the crisis that they say has resulted in needless suffering and deaths. In the declaration, governments are asked to respond within 90 days to a number of things, including meeting with First nation leaders and coming up with some sort of intervention plan. The intervention plan also needs to include ensuring First Nation communities have access to safe, clean drinking water.
At a news conference on Wednesday at a downtown Toronto hotel, a video was shown of Norman Shewaybick, whose wife Laura died last fall shortly after going into respiratory distress in their remote community in Webequie. While her husband held her hand, the nursing station in the community ran out of oxygen that may have saved her life, something that would never happen in a city hospital.
“We hear stories like this almost on a daily basis,” said Alvin Fiddler, grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. “It’s not like the government doesn’t know these things.” The Star reports that the Nishnawbe Aski Nation has 35,000 people in 49 communities across northern Ontario.
Fiddler also cited the cases of two four-year-olds who died in 2014 of rheumatic fever, caused by strep throat, and suicides in children as young as 10 years old.
According to First Nation leaders, the governments has failed to act on a number of deficiencies in health care services, including a report from the Auditor-General last year and a report delivered by First Nation leaders in January that detailed the increasing number of suicides.
The leaders are saying that federal and provincial health care policies have failed to deliver, resulting in below-standard health care that would not be acceptable to mainstream Canadians. “We’re talking about discrimination,” said Isadore Day, Ontario regional chief. “We’re talking about institutional racism in Canada’s and Ontario’s health-care system.”
The First Nation leaders talked of coming out of a "decade of darkness" under the Harper government. “As Canada and the provinces and territories look at a new health accord, they must understand . . . the cost of doing nothing over the last decade has had a drastic impact on the people of the North," said Day.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking in the House of Commons today said, he was very much aware of the "tragedy" extending beyond across the borders of northern Ontario and across Canada.
“We need to fix a relationship that has broken over the past decade, and indeed centuries, between Canada and indigenous peoples,” Trudeau said in response to questions from New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair. Let's hope Mr. Trudeau keeps his word to the First nations.