Treaty Right to Health

February 19, 2019

The Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba has changed the academic landscape when it comes to talking about Treaties and Treaty-making. In the “Origin and Nature of Treaties,” (2011) Jason Bone explains the meaning of treaty has different explanations and interpretations, either by First Nations or non-First Nations. This includes the legal interpretation of the federal government (Crown), and the original “Spirit and Intent” of treaty by First Nations. It is generally an accepted principle that treaty making provided the foundation of nation building of Canada. To be inclusive, treaties must include First Nations knowledge and heritage, not just what is written in text. The basic teaching of Elders is in order to secure the future as peoples, we must preserve our original history and teaching. The Elders further state that, First Nations history must be based on the language. It is the language of the people that will authentically and properly explain the nature of treaties.1  

In Breathing Life into the Stone Fort Treaty, Aimee Craft established that Inaakonigewin-Law, is about relationships.2 One dish with one spoon, or, gidoo-naaganinaam “our dish.”3 The Royal Proclamation and Treaty of Niagara set the terms and annual rent.4 Craft explains that what is meant by law… laws are taught through legends. Much of Inaakonigewin is related to kinship and land.5 Therefore, language needs to be taken seriously today. When we consider the term, “removing the dark cloud,” it refers to four men imprisoned. When they were released, Sky’s became clear.6 Manitoba has thousands of children in child care. There is also all the youth, men and women caught in the legal system, how does this affect health? In the chapter “Gizagi’in – Love,” Craft emphasizes what she was taught by Elders, the land cannot speak … we must speak for it.7  It is a Canadian issue given the declining ecological state of the environment. 

Rarihokwats is a consultant at the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, during the Treaty Discussions at lower Fort Garry, his presentation focused on the followed point: “If the treaties had been honored, there would be Trust Accounts in Ottawa totaling over 2 Trillion- two thousand billion- drawing an annual interest of 120 billion. No “tax payer money” would have been “spent on Indians” over the last 150 years because First Nations would have had access to the interest earned by their own money. What’s happened? From the very beginning the settlers that took over Canada engaged in an international campaign of deception that has become embedded as Canada’s official history. Generations of Canadians have grown up in that context.8  

The Treaty Right to Health comes from the Medicine Chest Clause in Treaty 6 but extends to other numbered treaties. Bone explains in Treaties 1 through 11 in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were based on prior treaties of Eastern Canada. This means treaties cannot be viewed in isolation. There is a link between all treaties to the original legal recognition of First Nations and the Royal Proclamation (1763). Royal Proclamation was also based on the nationhood status of First Nations. Treaty rights are confirmed and recognized in the current constitution (1982) and the founding constitution (1867) of Canada. The nature of treaties will require a holistic view that includes First Nations perspective, legal interpretation, and the current policy implementation of treaties.9 

The control of First Nations health is in a bit of jurisdictional limbo. The Liberal Government, under Justin Trudeau, has already split Indigenous and Northern Affairs into two departments, Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and has indicated its intentions of dissolving the Indian Act.10 The danger is, right now the Indian Act is the only legislation protecting First Nations. What legislative protections will safeguard First Nations when Trudeau’s plans run its course, and most importantly, is the health of First Nations people going to improve? Recently, Josee Lavoie pointed out in an article titled, “How to improve indigenous health: address jurisdictional disputes,” he stated, “in 2017, there remains a health-care system in Canada excluded from the shelter of the 1984 Canada Health Act. Funded by the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada (FNIHB), Canada’s 14th health-care system operates outside of the legislative framework of the 13 provinces and territories. It operates on First Nation reserves across Canada and in the Inuit communities of northern Quebec and Labrador. Every provincial health-care system manages a multiplicity of players including provincial health authorities, hospitals, community clinics, family physicians in private practices, and others. Legislation, policies and clarity over roles and responsibilities ensure that services are complementary and reasonably coordinated. Mechanisms exist to rectify problems. This is precisely what is missing when confusion emerges between the 14th health-care system and its provincial counterpart.11 

 And further yet, First Nations leaders such as Pam Palmater advise leadership to get involved in the health issue that Greyhound Canada has made in deciding to cut service to many northern communities out of its routes. Palmater writes, “While the lack of accessible transportation creates a public safety issue in terms of violence against women, it also affects public safety in the sense of access to healthcare, dental care and mental health treatment—issues that, again, disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples, especially First Nations people, who suffer from the highest rates of injury from accidents, suicides, chronic illnesses and diseases. Having endured the intergenerational impacts of trauma from residential schools, the forced adoptions of the Sixties Scoop, and the impact of forced sterilizations, mental illness is a major issue for First Nations communities. Many of the First Nations in these targeted provinces are dependent on Greyhound bus services for transportation to doctors’ appointments, hospital stays and long-term treatments in urban cities. Failing to provide a way to reach those treatments stands in stark contrast to the federal government’s commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, a vow that includes implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s suggestion that healthcare is a treaty right.12 

First Nations treaty right to health is not the policies that cover prescriptions or an annual dental cleaning. It’s not the 14th health -care system that legislates neglect. Bone explains the position of Elders is that the Creator created First Nations existence and rights. The Elders are firm in their teachings that we as First Nations have pre-existing status of nationhood prior to treaty making. Treaty was about equality and dignity. The intent of treaty was about partnership, reconciliation, and co-existence amongst all nations. It is the mutual respect, recognition, benefit, responsibility, and honor for people of all nations people that will bring justice to the original spirit and intent of treaty.13 

References 

APTN National News, “Ottawa splits indigenous affairs into two departments.”  Accessed 8 October: available at http://aptnnews.ca/2017/08/28/ottawa-splits-indigenous-affairs-into-two-departments/ 

Bone, Jason. “The Origin and Nature of Treaties.” First Nation Voice [online newspaper]. Accessed 7 October 2018. Available from http://www.firstnationsvoice.com/index.php?action=article_details&title=Origin+and+nature+of+treaties&id=132 

 Craft, Aimee. Breathing Life into the Stone Fort TreatySaskatoon: Purich Publishing, 2013. 

 Lavoie, Josee. “How to improve indigenous health: address jurisdictional disputes” [Globe and Mail Online] accessed 7 October 2018: available from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/how-to-improve-indigenous-health-address-jurisdictional-disputes/article34928858/ 

Palmater, Pam. “Greyhound Canada’s cuts are a public safety crisis for indigenous people.” [Maclean‘s Online]  accessed 8 October 2018: available at https://www.macleans.ca/opinion/greyhound-canadas-cuts-are-a-public-safety-crisis-for-indigenous-people/ 

Rarihokwats. Presentation titled “Debunking the mysticism surrounding the Treaties,” Treaty One Commemoration at Lower Fort Garry 3 August 2018 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Last modified: March 4, 2019

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