Manitoba First Nations Chief calls out province, feds over dire state of health care services in his community

By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Winnipeg Sun

The Chief of one of Manitoba’s largest First Nations says health care services are in a dire and deteriorating state in his community, and if things don’t improve, he believes it will continue to lead to more harm and more “unnecessary deaths.”

“We are sick and tired of bringing our people home in a box, and that’s what is happening here,” Pimicikamak Cree Nation (PCN) Chief David Monias said during a media conference held this week. “Many unnecessary deaths have happened and will continue to happen, because the health system in First Nations is broken.

“It’s a broken system.”

Monias held the media conference, as he said underfunding and understaffing by both the federal and provincial governments are leading to ongoing issues at the nursing station in PCN, a northern community also commonly referred to as Cross Lake that is home to approximately 8,200 on-reserve residents.

Monias said because of nursing staff shortages, the ER at the nursing station is continually being forced to close its doors, and when the ER is closed, those with an emergency health situation must call ahead and be triaged over the phone, and then depending on how serious the emergency is, have to be sent more than 250 kilometres to Thompson, or in some cases, more than 530 kilometres to Winnipeg to receive care.

“We feel that if anyone walks into a hospital they should be seen,” Monias said. “You may wait, but you will be seen.

“But that’s not what we have here, and I think we could prevent a lot more deaths when people can be seen at home, and when we can catch these health issues earlier.”

Monias said he is placing blame on both the province and the federal government for the issues, and he accused both levels of government of not adequately funding or staffing health care services in PCN.

“We feel that Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and the province are failing our people, because health is a Treaty right, but it’s also a human right,” he said.

“There are pillars under the Canada Health Act, and we feel they are being violated.”

Monias added he now plans to request meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, federal Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu and Premier Heather Stefanson, as he wants to ensure that PCN is being properly funded by both the feds and the province for health care services.

“We are one of the largest First Nations communities in Canada, and we feel we are being neglected,” he said.

In a statement released this week, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said they believe that issues with health services in PCN are similar in many other Manitoba First Nations, and accused both the province and the federal government of “perpetuating ongoing injustices, and endangering the health and well-being of First Nations Peoples.”

A spokesperson for the provincial government said they could offer no comment for this story because the province is currently in an election cycle.

In an email, a spokesperson for ISC said the federal government is aware of the health care staffing issues in PCN.

“The recent news from Manitoba is concerning,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to work closely with First Nations organizations, health professionals and the provincial government to strengthen access to quality care to improve nursing recruitment, and ensure integrated health services.

“In 2021, ISC established a Nursing Health and Human Resource Framework. The framework is designed to respond to nursing shortages and address the potential for nursing station closures in remote and isolated First Nations communities.

“We know that there is more work to do, and we remain committed to ensuring that First Nations communities have access to the high-quality, culturally-appropriate primary health care services they need.”