Original Published 17:21 May 27, 2022

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Indigenous leaders in the north have declared a state of emergency, because they say the state of health care in northern Manitoba and for many First Nations citizens in this province is now in a crisis situation.

On Thursday, the Keewatinohk Inniniw Okimowin Council (KIOC), a group of chiefs and councillors that collectively represent 23 northern Manitoba First Nations, unanimously declared a state of emergency on health services in the north.

KIOC said the state of emergency was called because of current critical nursing shortages at northern Manitoba health care facilities and nursing stations that they said are putting, “First Nations people in actual peril, because of the much longer wait times to be seen in the nursing stations, where a minimum standard of care is already stretched, to breaking.”

“Who would bring their family members knowing that the services are stretched that thin,” Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief, and current KIOC interim chairperson David Monias said in a statement released after the state of emergency was declared.

“We are calling on the government to come to a roundtable, and discuss solutions immediately.”

KIOC said the state of emergency will “signal to both the provincial and federal governments that First Nations in the north will be seeking more control over the health systems meant to serve them.”

They said they will also look to set up a roundtable discussion with the federal and provincial governments to address “immediate, short term, medium- and long-term solutions.”

Issues they want to discuss include health infrastructure on reserves which KIOC said is “long overdue for modernization,” as well as ways for improving the federal and provincial integrated response system for urgent and emergent care.”

KIOC said they also want to discuss issues of systemic racism, which they believe continue to affect the quality of health care services for First Nations people and communities in northern Manitoba.

“Nursing shortages and shortages in physician-led care, limited access to diagnostic care, lack of appropriate health infrastructure in communities, and the lack of a coordinated systems-based response for urgent and emergent issues like the nursing shortage – all of this is racism, full stop, and has been worsening instead of improving over time,” Dr. Barry Lavallee, the CEO of Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, a not-for-profit that works to improve health care for First Nations citizens in Manitoba, said in a statement.

“System leaders have nothing to be proud of, and should really hang their heads in shame.”

Lavallee said he also does not want to see health officials try to blame health care issues in northern Manitoba on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many will try to lay blame on the pandemic, but that is only one of the contributing factors,” Lavallee said.

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to the Northern Health Region asking for comment on the state of emergency declaration, and for a response to comments made by KIOC officials, but did not get a response before Friday’s press deadline.

This item reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg, Manitoba