Indigenous leadership accuse northern health authority of mistreatment

 By Dave Baxter

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Accusations of mistreatment of First Nations people were levelled against the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) and a member of its leadership on Thursday.

In a news release, leaders with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak

(MKO) and Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin (KIM) say they are frustrated with health authority, and are so far disappointed with a new partnership agreement recently signed that pledged to work to stamp out anti-Indigenous racism in the region.

“Incidents continue to occur even with the formalization of a new relationship between the three parties, when each signed the Declaration to Eliminate All Forms of Indigenous-Specific Racism on September 26, 2022,”MKO and KIM said in a joint release Thursday.

MKO and KIM claim a “series of incidents” were brought to the attention of the NRHA board and administrators by a delegation of Chiefs as well as Dr. Barry Lavallee during a meeting held in The Pas on March 6.

But Lavallee, the CEO of KIM, a First Nations led health entity in northern Manitoba, is now also claiming there was an “example of racism exhibited at the highest level by a system lead” during that March 6 meeting, that he says has put further strain on the relationships between the health authority and Indigenous leaders.

“It is difficult to stay silent while observing our leaders being treated in a dismissive manner, while emotively sharing about health care related incidents.” Lavallee said in a news release regarding the March 6 meeting, and the alleged incident.

“They revealed the details with courage and equanimity, to draw attention to what needs to change in the northern health system. The response at first appeared supportive with platitudes about agreeing to work on the relationship, however at one point there was laughter as one of our leaders revealed from the heart about the death of a family member.

“This is unacceptable behaviour, and is really an example of racism exhibited at the highest level by a system lead, and unfortunately has done nothing but cause further damage to the relationship.”

Both MKO and KIM now say they wonder if the the only way the fix health care for First Nations people in the north is for First Nations communities to take more control over those health care systems.

“While MKO and KIM expect that they will continue to work with the Northern Health Region, it has become apparent that a new health governance arrangement where First Nations take the lead is essential to real health  transformation in the north,” the organizations said.

“We won’t resign ourselves to this reality any longer. This must change.”

The Winnipeg Sun reached out to MKO and KIM asking for an interview with Lavallee, or if the organizations had any further details of any recent alleged incidents of mistreatment, but received no response before Thursday’s press deadline.

In an email, a spokesperson with the NRHA said that as of Thursday afternoon officials with the health authority were not aware of the alleged incident on March 6, but will now be following up on the allegations.

“We are unaware of the referenced situation during a recent meeting, but the NRHA does not condone inappropriate behavior as described. We will be following up with MKO/KIM,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that the NRHA is “saddened” by the accusations made in the news release, and claimed they are committed to combating anti-Indigenous racism.

“Our goals have not changed, neither has our understanding that Indigenous anti-racism will not be solved overnight,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to moving forward with our efforts as a health region and as a partner in this important endeavor and mindful of the Seven Sacred Teachings.”

-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.



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