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Colonialism remains a health risk, MPP says

November 1, 2023
Sol Mamakwa
Sol Mamakwa

Wants health authority given to First Nations

First Peoples Law Report: Timmins The Daily Press – A private member’s bill with the goal of improving healthcare outcomes for the province’s Indigenous population was defeated in the Ontario Legislature this week, much to the disappointment of a northern MPP.

Sol Mamakwa, who is the MPP for the riding of Kiiwetinoong, as well as the Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition (the NDP), and the Critic for Indigenous and Treaty Relations, spoke with the Daily Press about the motion’s defeat.

Motion 66 urged the Ontario government, led by Premier Doug Ford, to recognize Indigeneity and colonialism as Indigenous Determinants of Health. It was debated last Thursday at Queen’s Park. “On Monday, we actually had to vote for it, to see if the government would support it or not,” said Mamakwa.

“We did a stand-up vote right after Question Period on Monday, and the motion was defeated by the Ford Conservatives 74 to 34.”

It was a unanimous ‘nay’ from the Ontario PCs. Support for the motion came from the NDP, the Liberal Party, and Independents.

Mamawka feels the PCs were essentially told how to vote, likely led by Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford. He said they didn’t want to acknowledge colonialism as an issue.

“Even though within the debate last Thursday, the government recognized that health outcomes for Indigenous people are lower than other Ontarians,” he said.

“The excuse that they gave me was ‘you didn’t give us enough time to review the report on the social determinants of health’ that our party wrote. It’s only 3 or 4 pages long. They could have reviewed it, but it was the excuse they gave me.”

The report is seven pages long. Rickford countered the legislative procedure for private member’s bills would require the tabling of a report more than one day in advance of a vote.

Mamakwa said that was a bit hypocritical of the Ontario PCs. “They do it to us. They often have hundreds of pages of legislation, then they expect us to debate it the next day.”

“Again, they’re just so out of touch on what is best for First Nations people, because colonialism has become a way of life. Sometimes the status quo is construed as normal or acceptable for First Nations, whereby it wouldn’t be acceptable anywhere else in Ontario, or Canada for that matter.”

“There’s so many things, but a simple example is access to clean drinking water,” he said.

Essentially, the motion Mamakwa tabled would see First Nations granted recognition and a voice at the decision making table when it comes to providing healthcare to rural, remote, and Indigenous communities.

“The Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority agrees with the Indigenous determinants of health report.  The Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, health status reports, align its findings with this report and have seen the devastating results of poor health outcomes in all the communities we work with.  This is a direct result of a health care system that has not responded adequately to the health care needs of the region,” said Janet Gordon, Chief Operating Officer of the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, on the proposed motion.

“Its all about bringing services closer to home. Such as dialysis. That’s just one example. How can we have dialysis units, when we don’t even have clean drinking water?” said Mamakwa, who added it was one of the points he raised during the debate in the legislature last Thursday.

“When people leave the First Nations to go get dialysis in Thunder Bay, Timmins, Kenora, or Sioux Lookout, they’re gone for good. They come back in a box. They come back for their funeral. That’s how colonialism works.”

Mamakwa said passing the motion would have been a significant step. “I think it would be important to acknowledge that colonialism – being First Nations, Indigenous, Metis – is part of the social determinants of health, and it would be recognized across ministries,” he said.

“When we try to make improvements in First Nations communities, in healthcare for example, the biggest room is the room for improvement, and by voting against this motion, it says they’re not even in the room. That’s how they continue this colonial violence that is embedded into the healthcare system both provincially and federally.”

“It just speaks volumes about where we stand as First Nations people with this government. We do not matter.” He said it was already a tough week, as a young girl was lost to suicide in his home community of Kingfisher Lake, and the motion’s defeat was another unfortunate outcome.

Rickford preceded his response in the Legislature by extending his condolences for the tragic loss, adding that he is grieving alongside her grandfather, who is friend of the minister’s.

Mamakwa would like to see some health authority given back to First Nations people, and said ‘there is so much work to do.’

The motion could be re-introduced at a later date by a private member’s bill. “We will continue to address this issue of systemic racism that exists in the healthcare system,” said Mamakwa.

Author of the article:

Andrew Autio/The Daily Press