APTN National News
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday he would be putting “real money” toward fixing the health and infrastructure crisis in many First Nation communities.
Trudeau made the pledge while responding to question in the House of Commons over a state of emergency declared by 33 First Nations in the Sioux Lookout area of northern Ontario.
“We need to fix a relationship that has broken over the past decades and, indeed, centuries between Canada and Indigenous peoples,” said Trudeau. “That is why this government has pledged to renew a new relationship, putting real money forward to build support on infrastructure, health, on a broad range of things and creating a true nation-to-nation relationship.”
Trudeau was pressed on the issue during question period by NDP leader Tom Mulcair who called on the government to do something to deal with the health crisis gripping the First Nation communities that are home to 30,000 people.
“Another First Nations community in northern Ontario has just declared a state of emergency, not because of a weather disaster or because of any accident, but because of the everyday reality there that is simply unacceptable in our country,” said Mulcair.
Trudeau has already promised his government would be investing $2.6 billion in new funding for First Nation education and that his government would be clearing all First Nations off Indigenous Affairs’ water advisory list within four years.
It’s expected the Liberal government’s plan to roll out the promised billions to First Nations will be contained in the federal budget scheduled for unveiling on March 22.
Earlier in the day, chiefs with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) held a press conference in Toronto declaring the state of emergency.
“The many urgent and long-standing health issues that plague our communities are well-documented and the time for action is now,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “We are calling on all levels of government to commit to a plan of action to address this crisis.”
NAN is the umbrella organization which represents the Sioux Lookout area First Nations.
The health system in these First Nation communities is so underfunded and broken that children have died from treatable ailments. In 2014, two four-year-olds died from rheumatic fever.
“The health system provided to First Nations is an atrocious mess, which has led to the health crisis we are facing today,” said Solomon Mamakwa, health director with the Shibogama Health Authority. “We are not even allowed to access all mainstream health services and supports. This has led to the loss of many of our people, including children. This type of system is not tolerated or acceptable in mainstream society. Why are we expected to accept this as Indigenous peoples?”
NAN said in a statement it expects to meet with federal and provincial officials within the next 90 days to develop a plan to end the health crisis in the communities.
Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters in Ottawa department officials were on the ground dealing with the ongoing crisis.
“They are meeting with officials at the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority,” said Philpott. “They will be working with local First Nation chiefs as well as provincial health advisers and we will be addressing these concerns.”
Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer said in a statement emailed to APTN that he would be working with NAN and federal officials to deal with the crisis.
“Improving access to health and social services and improving outcomes for First Nations, especially in remote communities, are key issues that we all have to tackle together,” said Zimmer. “Whether they be health-care services, education outcomes or over-representation in child welfare, we need to re-think how we support, resource and empower Indigenous communities.”