$23.7M in federal funding to go toward health-care reform in northern Manitoba First Nations

The federal government will invest more than $23 million to improve health care for northern Manitoba First Nations communities, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu announced in Winnipeg on Friday.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), representing 26 First Nations, will receive the money, which will go toward creating new models of health care over the next two years.

Grand Chief Garrison Settee says the new models will work better for his communities.

“We will bridge the knowledge of the science of Western medicine with our traditional knowledge, values and ceremonies,” he said at a Friday news conference.

MKO signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government in 2018 to work toward transferring control of federal health-care programs and services to their First Nations-led health entity Keewatinohk Inniniew Minoayawin (KIM).

Hajdu says she became deeply committed to improving health care for Indigenous people after witnessing the troubles her clients faced when she ran a homeless shelter in Thunder Bay.

She recalls people being discharged to the shelter while still receiving IV fluids.

“I didn’t understand how a system that was designed to help people who were sick and suffering [and] that I had used as a non-Indigenous person … was intentionally cruel to Indigenous people,” she said.

While completing her undergraduate in medical anthropology at Lakehead University, Hajdu says she learned that the way people conceptualize health is driven by an individual’s worldview.

“In North America, we view the body like a car. It’s very symptom-driven … the world view of Indigenous people is much more holistic,” she said.

Dr. Barry Lavallee leads Keewatinohk Inniniew Minoayawin, the health-care entity that will help design new models of care for northern Manitoba communities. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Dr. Barry Lavallee, who has been leading the KIM team since its 2020 inception, says Indigenous people enter the current health-care system “as a stereotype.”

“Grand chief goes to an emergency room. He might have had a beer. Someone white will come who has had three beers. Who’s going to get the ultimate defining [medical] investigation?” he asked.

The new health-care models that Lavallee is helping design will take into account intergenerational trauma when treating patients, and will provided services through a harm-reduction lens.

The federal government is also providing $750,000 over the next three years to enhance the law-making capacity of MKO First Nations.

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