Thunder Bay

After 'extraordinary security measures and personnel,' nurses return full time to Pikangikum First Nation

Three weeks after nursing staff were pulled out of Pikangikum First Nation by Indigenous Services Canada, full-time health services have been restored to the northwestern Ontario First Nation located 200 kilometres north of Kenora.

Health staff were flown in and out of northern Ontario community every day after OPP expelled March 20

Pikangikum First Nation Chief Dean Owen welcomed Indigenous Services Canada's decision to return full time nursing staff to the community, but says more work is needed to address the outstanding policing issues. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Three weeks after nursing staff were pulled out of Pikangikum First Nation by Indigenous Services Canada, full time health services have been restored the remote northwestern Ontario First Nation of roughly 4,000 members, located 200 kilometres north of Kenora.

The decision was made after Pikangikum leaders met with Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller on Saturday.

Previously, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) flew registered nurses and paramedics out of the First Nation due to "safety and security concerns," after the chief and council of Pikangikum First Nation expelled 10 provincial police officers from the community over allegations of incidents involving OPP constables.

    The federal government had refused to allow health-care staff to remain in the community overnight, instead flying them out nightly.

    This forced the Independent First Nations Alliance (IFNA), a tribal council representing five First Nations, to provide temporary, emergency health services to residents in the evenings.

    We welcome the nurses back as we consider them part of our community ... [and] now we can get back to the issue of police services in Pikangikum.- Chief Dean Owen

    "The community provided extraordinary security measures and personnel to the nursing station in order to alleviate anxiety and motivate government to allow their nurses to return," Chief Dean Owen said in a release.

    "We welcome the nurses back as we consider them part of our community ... [and] now we can get back to the issue of police services in Pikangikum."

    Indigenous Services Canada told CBC News in an emailed statement that the department has been evaluating the return of health-care providers on a daily basis. 

    At one point, Eric Melillo, MP for Kenora riding, called for the deployment of RCMP to Pikangikum to restore overnight health services, but a spokesperson from Public Safety Canada confirmed there were no plans to do so.

    Indigenous Services Canada made the decision to allow nursing staff to remain in Pikangikum First Nation near Kenora, Ont., overnight following a Saturday afternoon meeting with leadership from the community. (CBC)

    Instead, ISC said, the April 10 decision was based on a commitment by Pikangikum to increase security at the nursing station to three "recently trained First Nation security guards" per shift, and the presence of 15 peacekeepers and five First Nation police officers in the community.

    Mathew Hoppe, chief executive officer of the IFNA, told CBC News in an interview, "We were able to make the case and demonstrate there is tremendous capacity in the community to provide wellness, security and police-type services … to alleviate the risk that they perceived there was."

    First Nation working on long-term policing plan

    "This event has taught us that we must have better control of policing and other government services provided in our community, which we now understand are not in our control," Owen when asked to comment on the restoration of health-care services.

    He said the First Nation is working on a long-term solution for policing services in the community.

    Hoppe said in an interview that work to build a community-based policing or peacekeeping presence staffed by residents of Pikangikum is ongoing.

    "It's a very unique community with culture, language, but also a blessing of a lot of youth and young people that want to help the community … and be part of the solution. And they have stepped up in a very positive way," he said.

    "What we're going to see is some ongoing development of the peacekeeping force, further training for the number of people that want to commit and be part of a community-based approach" to policing.

    Hoppe said there is also an opportunity for Pikangikum to start building local health-care capacity, by training community members to become paramedics, a service that's not now in place in the fly-in First Nation.

    Listen to the Mathew Hoppe's full interview with Superior Morning here.