'State of crisis' in northern Sask. highlights Truth and Reconciliation calls to action

A spotlight has been put on Indigenous health care — especially mental health supports — following the suicides of four girls in northern Saskatchewan.

Seven calls to action focus on Indigenous health

Ted Quewezance says the "status quo" of Indigenous health care is no longer an option. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Indigenous leaders are hopeful that progress may finally be made on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action regarding Indigenous health.

A spotlight has been put on Indigenous health care — especially mental health supports — following the suicides of four girls in northern Saskatchewan.

Three girls, aged 12 to 14, took their own lives in the span of four days. Those girls were from Stanley Mission and La Ronge. Then this week, a 10-year-old girl from Deschambault Lake committed suicide.

"Yes, that's our trigger," said Ted Quewezance, former chief of the Keeseekoose First Nation, of the push to have the calls to action addressed. "'Cause nothing's changed since this crisis in Attawapiskat, nothing's changed up there. In Cross Lake, nothing has changed. [In] Saskatchewan, nothing has changed. Nothing is going to change until the engagement process of our First Nations' leaders."

Seven of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission directly addressed the health of Indigenous people.

Following the release of the report, Quewezance made it his mandate to have those calls addressed.

"The status quo is not an option," Quewezance said, adding that emergency responses following suicides in northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario haven't done enough for the long term.

As was said in the calls to action, Quewezance said Indigenous people need to be involved in determining changes to Indigenous health care.

"Who better knows the needs of our people?"

Quewezance said traction is being made now that bands in northern Saskatchewan, Ontario and Manitoba have formed an alliance to work together.

On Thursday, Saskatchewan's Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) said its communities are facing "a state of crisis."  FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron is calling for a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the issue.

A statement from the prime minister's office on Friday said the minister of health and the minister of Indigenous and northern affairs are in regular communication with the leaders of the communities where the suicides happened. However, it said there are currently no plans for a meeting with the prime minister.

The calls for action regarding health from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report are as follows:

18. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognize and implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in international law, constitutional law, and under the Treaties.

19. We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal peoples, to establish measurable goals to identify and close the gaps in health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, and to publish annual progress reports and assess long-term trends.

20. In order to address the jurisdictional disputes concerning Aboriginal people who do not reside on reserves, we call upon the federal government to recognize, respect, and address the distinct health needs of the Métis, Inuit, and off-reserve Aboriginal peoples.

21. We call upon the federal government to provide sustainable funding for existing and new Aboriginal healing centres to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harms caused by residential schools, and to ensure that the funding of healing centres in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories is a priority.

22. We call upon those who can effect change within the Canadian health-care system to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in the treatment of Aboriginal patients in collaboration with Aboriginal healers and Elders where requested by Aboriginal patients.

23. We call upon all levels of government to: increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the health-care field, ensure the retention of Aboriginal health-care providers in Aboriginal communities and provide cultural competency training for all health-care professionals.

24. We call upon medical and nursing schools in Canada to require all students to take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, and Indigenous teachings and practices.

About the Author

After spending five years in radio, Courtney Markewich joined CBC Saskatoon in 2016. She is currently a Social Media News Editor/Presenter for @CBCSask and @CBCSaskatoon.

With files from CBC's Devin Heroux