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OTTAWA, Sept. 18 – The elected Chiefs of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians were on Parliament Hill September 18th and 19th, 2009 to raise the awareness of several issues, including access to health. The Chiefs met with Members of Parliament and government officials to discuss these issues.Grand Chief Phillips stated, “the reason we are here is to begin to open the doors of dialogue between government officials and First Nation Communities on several specific issues regarding treaty rights, consultation, education and concerns in regards to the health of our people.”
Currently health programs/services (on-reserve) are delivered through various contribution agreements with elected councils. The Non Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program provides First Nation communities with access to basic health care and provides supplements for optometric, dental, medications and transportation.
The AIAI Chiefs all say that the NIHB program is severely underfunded and that the government focuses on cost containment rather than the health and wellness of First Nation people.
Grand Chief Randall Phillips said, “The range of health services available through the NIHB program has been steadily eroded over the past few years and that trend has to stop”.
Chief R. Donald Maracle, health portfolio for the AIAI Chiefs Council said, “The Government must consult with First Nations on the changes to the NIHB program and ensure that these changes are based on the health needs of our people and not motivated by cost containment measures or budget decisions.”
During a visit to Parliament Hill, the Chiefs were made aware of the recent H1N1 controversy, in which Health Canada sent body bags to the Wasagamack First Nation in Manitoba. This was part of Health Canada’s approach to pandemic planning for First Nations communities.
Grand Chief Randall Phillips also carried this message to the National media via interviews and also as a guest on the CTV news show “Power Play” hosted by Tom Clarke.
The AIAI Chiefs said, “The body bag issue clearly illustrates the lack of coordination and preparation on Health Canada’s part in relation to pandemic planning.”
The Grand Chief stated that the recent news about the body bags was disturbing. “The news about the delivery of body bags to the community, rather than providing the proper preventative supplies, like hand sanitizers, masks and vaccines does not send a very good message about the governments implementation of their pandemic plans. I certainly hope this mistake can be used to awaken the Canadian public awareness of the seriousness of this issue and to put pressure on the government to do the right thing.”
The Grand Chief went on to say, “The Canadian public should take notice to how First Nations communities are being treated as it shows how prepared Canada really is for the pandemic. I can only imagine what the level of outrage and demand for Government accountability would be if a non-native community received body bags from the government.”
The Grand Chief also stated that he is glad that the Health Canada officials are conducting a full investigation into this incident to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, but Health Canada must not treat this as an isolated incident but use this as an opportunity to review and evaluate their pandemic planning for First Nations.
For further information: The Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, Grand Chief Randall Phillips, (519) 434-2761, firstname.lastname@example.org
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