THUNDER BAY – “When it comes to the life and death reality facing Indigenous people in the north, it is still the same old /same old attitude from the federal government,” charges Charlie Angus the New Democrat MP for Timmins James Bay. “A state of emergency was declared in NAN Territory because people are dying from a lack of medical access. The new government said they were taking the matter seriously. They said they were aware of the need to improve services. Now with two days notice they have shut down two nurses stations in the north”.
Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler says, “I want to commend the leadership and frontline workers of Keewaywin and Nibinamik for their strong leadership in dealing with this very serious issue. I want to assure all our community members that we will not accept any closures (even temporary) of any of our nursing stations anywhere. We need our nursing stations to remain open. There have been too many needless deaths and we cannot allow the health and wellbeing of our people, especially our children to be put at risk.”
On a conference call earlier this week between First Nation leaders and health officials, assurances were given by federal health officials that arrangements have been made for both nursing stations to remain open. Nurses are to remain in Keewaywin First Nation until September 12 and a nurse to be deployed to Nibinamik.
“It is unacceptable for remote and isolated First Nations to face the possibility of their nursing stations closing, even temporarily, and I strongly disagree with Health Canada’s reliance on alternative sites for health care access and telemedicine as temporary solutions. Residents of remote fly-in communities cannot simply drive to neighbouring communities, and making a phone call for assistance is not an option in the event of a heart attack, acute trauma, or other major medical emergency,” said newly elected Deputy Grand Chief Jason Smallboy, who holds the health portfolio. “NAN First Nations suffer from marginalized health care services and the potential removal of nurses only exacerbates the current health crisis in our territory. It is the responsibility of Health Canada to ensure that qualified medical professionals are in our communities so our members have access to the same level of health care as the rest of the country.”
NAN and representatives of the Sioux Lookout Area Chiefs Committee on Health declared a Health and Public Health Emergency in February 2016 to address urgent and long-standing health issues caused by the inequality of health and health care services in NAN First Nations. To address this, First Nation leaders and health officials presented strategic recommendations to the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs on April 14, 2016.
In a media statement issued by NAN the group states, “A scathing report by the Auditor General of Canada in 2015 confirmed the continued failure of Health Canada to address the health care needs of First Nations.”
Earlier this month, NAN and the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak announced their commitment to work together to improve the health of their members and communities with the signing of a Political Unity Accord on First Nations Health.