First Nations leaders say they should be at health care meeting with PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to sit down with provincial leaders in early February to talk about the state of health care and billions of dollars in spending.

But the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says Indigenous leaders aren’t invited to the meeting.

“I think when we talk about transfer payments and these kinds of frameworks that impact us, whether it’s negatively or positively,” said Vice Chief Heather Bear. “That’s our role as leaders. And not to include us, any leader, like we have the AFN, we have regional organizations right across the country, and we have to stop this kind of practice if we want to be truthful and reconcilable.”

In Manitoba, Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels released a statement Friday calling on Trudeau to invite First Nations leaders to the meeting.

“They are not meeting the needs of First Nations people, and this is why we are working to transform health at the Southern Chiefs’ Organization,” said Daniels in the statement. “First Nations citizens know that we need better services and systems to be healthy, and we need to be able to speak on behalf of our Nations at the First Ministers’ meeting dealing with federal health funding transfers next month.”

Bear said people who live on reserve are especially vulnerable because of the long distances they have to travel for healthcare, “not to mention you know the problems and issues you know, when trying to access, you know, their treaty right to health, being the systemic racism and discrimination.”

Bear said she and others are dismayed by the exclusion of Indigenous leaders.

“Especially when the prime minister has indicated on his campaign that the First Nation relationship was the most important relationship,” she said. “We feel this is insulting to have those discussions without our leaders.”

A spokesperson with Health Canada says Ottawa continues to work with First Nation communities for better health care.

“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 Healthcare system, and other initiatives to ensure we are working collaboratively and in partnership together,” said Guillaume Bertrand.

“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.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated Jan. 28, 2023.

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