A New Era in Health Governance: Southern Chiefs’ Organization and Canada Seal Historic Deal

Image Credit, Geralt

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) and Canada have signed an Agreement-in-Principle on Health Governance. This document outlines the transfer of health programs and services from Indigenous Services Canada to the new Southern First Nations Health Authority, which will serve the 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations.

“This is a historic transformation of health care developed by First Nations for First Nations and an important milestone in the Southern Chiefs’ Organization’s health transformation journey,” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels. “We are committed to providing our citizens with high-quality health care that is culturally safe, free of racism, and available in their Nations.”

The Agreement-in-Principle lays the groundwork for the largest health process transformation in Manitoba, involving the transfer of federal First Nation health and capital program services. SCO will present this initiative at the United Nations’ 17th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Geneva, Switzerland next month.

“The signing of the Agreement-in-Principle is an important step we are taking with our Treaty partners to decolonize health care,” stated Chief Cornell McLean of the Lake Manitoba First Nation. “SCO is the second entity in Canada to enter into such an agreement with Canada. There is an 11-year gap in life expectancy for First Nation citizens compared to others in Manitoba. It is critical that we provide safe, culturally supportive, and holistic care to our citizens. The Southern First Nations Health Authority will ensure our citizens and Nations lead decision-making and guide the development of priority programs and services.”

This agreement aligns with Call to Action #19 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which urges the federal government to close the health outcomes gap between First Nations and non-First Nation communities. SCO’s commitment to reconciliation with Canada and Manitoba aims to enact significant changes within the health care system, ensuring better health outcomes for SCO citizens.

Indigenous Services Canada Minister Patty Hajdu emphasized the importance of Indigenous involvement: “A key commitment in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action is the right of Indigenous peoples to develop and administer programs. This Agreement-in-Principle with the Southern Chiefs’ Organization will transform health systems in southern Manitoba to be more effective, sustainable, and responsive to the needs of First Nations Peoples.”

Uzoma Asagwara, Minister of Health, Seniors and Long-Term Care, added, “Everyone should be able to access the best-quality care. In partnership with SCO and the Government of Canada, we can make important changes to improve health care in southern Manitoba. We commend this agreement and look forward to ensuring high-quality, culturally safe care is available close to home for families.”

The Agreement-in-Principle paves the way for a Tripartite Framework Agreement with Canada and Manitoba, detailing funding mechanisms for the Southern First Nations Health Authority. This will include developing health programs and services tailored to each SCO member Nation, incorporating traditional Anishinaabe and Dakota teachings, medicines, and knowledge to support holistic health.

Karlene Debance, Chief Executive Officer of SCO Health Transformation, emphasized the importance of community voices: “The voices and needs of SCO citizens will be at the heart of the Southern First Nations Health Authority. Each Nation has priorities and concerns that will need to be heard and addressed in a way that supports them best. Listening to our Nations is our guiding principle.”

This historic agreement marks a significant step toward self-governance and culturally appropriate health care for the Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations, paving the way for improved health outcomes and greater autonomy in health services.