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Kashechewan rash outbreak highlights woeful First Nations health care, say critics

In remote Kashechewan, children are breaking out in alarming red rashes. Dozens of children in the northern Ontario First Nation are suffering from severe skin conditions. The Current investigates the medical and social causes behind the outbreak.
Health Canada says Kashechewan is not facing a health emergency but critics say the rash outbreak is indicative of larger public health emergency in Ontario's northern First Nations. (Derek Stephen/Facebook)

In remote Kashechewan First Nation, the children are breaking out in an alarming rash.

Timmins–James Bay MP Charlie Angus posted on Twitter, March 18, 2016:  "This is the face of the medical crisis hitting Treaty 9." 

Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus posted this picture on his Twitter feed to reinforce the message that the Nishnawbe Aski Nation tried to send to Ottawa in declaring a public health crisis. (Charlie Angus/Twitter)

About 30 kids, some just babies, have been afflicted by the skin condition — their faces and bodies covered in dark scabs and bumps.

Former Kashechewan chief Derek Stephen posted pictures of his infant niece covered in lesions and other children in the community who have skin conditions.

Derek Stephen of Kashechewan posted photos on social media of the angry-looking bumps and rashes on his niece's legs and face. The baby is now receiving medical treatment in Timmins, Ont. (Derek Stephen/Facebook)

About a decade ago, Kashechewan was rocked by a tainted water crisis. Hundreds of residents were air-lifted away to get the treatment they needed, just as some children are being now. Health professionals have also been travelling into Kashechewan to treat children

The federal health minister says this outbreak was not caused by the water in Kashechewan but residents suspect otherwise, hoping to get the long-term water issues addressed. 

Whenever there are issues like this that are raised by our communities [there's ]the tendency to almost blame the victim. That shouldn't be.- Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the  Nishnawbe   Aski  Nation

Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says that proper healthcare has been lacking in Kashehwan and doesn't meet the needs of the community. 

Fiddler tells The Current's Laura Lynch, "... in terms of an official response from Health Canada, from the federal health minister. There has been nothing at all."

Guests in this segment:

  • Dr. Gordon Green, a family doctor and chief of staff for the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority and one of the doctors sent by Health Canada to visit Kashechewan. 
  • Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a political organization representing 49 First Nations in northern Ontario.
  • Alexandra Shimo, author of "Hoax for a Nation: The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve", published this summer. 

The Current requested comment from Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, but her office said it would not be able to make a comment in time for this program.

In response to the situation in Kashechewan, Health Canada sent us the following statement on behalf of Minister of Health, Jane Philpott:

"While I am relieved to know there is no immediate medical emergency in the community, the situation in Kashechewan is another troubling reminder of the many social and health challenges that are faced by many First Nation and Inuit communities. I have spoken to First Nations Leaders...and have assured them of our Government's firm resolve to work with them in partnership, to find those solutions."

This segment was produced by The Current's Catherine Kalbfleisch and Marc Apollonio.