First Nations want seat at table when Prime Minister, premiers talk health care needs, funding

First Nations leaders say they want to know why they will not have a seat at the table when Canada’s premiers meet with the prime minister next month to discuss health care needs and funding.

A meeting scheduled to take place in Ottawa on Feb. 7, will see the 13 premiers meet face to face with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on health care funding, as provinces and territories look to get a bigger cut of the annual Canada Health Transfer.

But during a Monday media conference in Winnipeg, Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO) Grand Chief Jerry Daniels gathered with several other First Nations leaders and lambasted both the federal government and the provinces for not inviting any First Nations leadership to the meeting.

“We have an interest and a stake in the long-term success of the health care system,” Daniels said. “Our families are here, our children are here, and they’re going to be here for generations, so we want to get it right.

“We want the best for our communities, and I think that’s what Canadians need to understand.”

According to Daniels, the amount of funding the province of Manitoba will receive from the feds, and how it will be used will have direct implications for First Nations people, and that is why First Nations should be represented at the meeting.

On Monday, Daniels and other leaders also claimed there is currently a “crisis” in this province when it comes to health care for First Nations communities, as he said Indigenous health outcomes continue to show that there needs to be changes made to the health care system to better serve First Nations people.

A University of Manitoba study released in 2019 said that the “health gap” between First Nations people and non-First Nations people in this province was growing, as it showed an 11-year age gap between life expectancy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, up from a seven-year gap that was recorded in 2002.

Daniels added he believes there needs to be more funding and more resources to combat “systemic racism” in the health care system, which he said contributes to that growing gap across the country.

“One major challenge we face is the racism that is embedded within these systems,” Daniels said. “A first step in combatting this insidious racism is for us to be able to represent and advocate on behalf of our citizens.

“It is essential we work directly with the federal government to improve health for our First Nations. I urge the Prime Minister to ensure we have a seat at the table on Feb. 7.”

In an email, a spokesperson for federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos defended federal efforts to support health care for Indigenous people and to include Indigenous leaders and organizations in health care discussions, but did not say if there were any plans to invite any First Nations leaders to the Feb. 7 meeting in Ottawa.

“Our government continues to engage with Indigenous communities across the country regularly, whether through consultations on Indigenous data sovereignty, various FPTI meetings, anti-Indigenous racism in the health care system, and other initiatives to ensure we are working collaboratively and in partnership together,” the spokesperson said.

“We have also invested millions of dollars into healthcare initiatives that are culturally-sensitive and Indigenous-led at the community level, and we will continue these efforts.

“Indigenous Peoples face unique challenges when it comes to having fair and equitable access to quality and culturally safe healthcare services, and we must continue to work in partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis to properly address these gaps.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun