Calling on Ottawa often a futile exercise
Mia Rabson / Hill Talk
27/04/2009 1:00 AM
OTTAWA -- On Thursday afternoon, Garden Hill Chief David Harper stood in the news conference room on the ground floor of Parliament Hill and issued a plea for Ottawa to help his community get better health care.
In the span of a month, three infants have been airlifted from the reserve to Winnipeg with grave illnesses that were not diagnosed as quickly as they likely would have been had the kids not lived on a reserve. One died; one is recovering; and the third, a year-old girl, is still in the hospital battling tuberculosis.
There are many reasons why the incidents happened -- an understaffed nursing station, an unhealthy community, the inexperience of a young parent being able to challenge health-care professionals who insist Tylenol is all your baby needs.
It's not tough to imagine the kind of outrage that would occur in Winnipeg had a child died of meningitis after being sent home with Tylenol and instructions to the parents to give the child a cool bath.
The parents wouldn't have to board a plane and hold a press conference on Parliament Hill in order to be heard.
Harper is not the first chief to bring his plight to Ottawa -- and he won't be the last.
Native leaders arrive in the nation's capital all the time, hoping their voices will be heard amid the constant din of lobbying and political hot air that swirls in Ottawa like a plague.
They leave most often with little more than a ministerial pat on the head, a promise they are on the list, that Ottawa cares.
But nothing ever seems to change, no matter the issue, the party in power, or the depth of the despair.
Manitoba New Democratic MP Pat Martin, who was once his party's aboriginal affairs critic and met often with native leaders making the trek to Ottawa, said the pilgrimages are frequent but the action is lacking.
"They make the long trip down here with great hope and optimism that if they take their legitimate concerns to the nation's capital they'll finally get some action after getting the brush-off for decades," he said. "I'd say they are almost invariably disappointed."
David Harper returned to Manitoba Friday. He said his piece in Ottawa, but is he any closer to securing the hospital his community has been hoping to get for years? Not likely.
Just ask the kids of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario. They came to Ottawa last spring to meet with Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl and ask for a new school. The kids were being taught in portables because their school had been contaminated by a diesel spill that occurred 30 years ago.
This winter, the school was torn down, releasing toxic fumes and making kids sick -- nosebleeds, open sores, nausea, headaches.
The community wants the kids to leave the First Nation until the mess is cleaned. But Ottawa says tests show there is no danger and the Ontario government says it's the federal government's problem.
One has to wonder if there were kids in Ottawa developing nosebleeds and open sores as the stench of diesel permeated their playgrounds, how quickly governments would act.
The problems on First Nations are so profound, it is occasionally tough to imagine what it might take to solve them.
But something has to give.