Saturday, June 6, 2009

St. Theresa First Nation -If it isn't systematic racism, what is it?

The state of health conditions on reserves should have identified First Nations as high-risk for pandemic alarm and put these communities at the top of the list for pandemic planning. Clearly this did not happen. Why? If is isn't systematic racism, what is it? This issue is larger than the current H1N1 virus, which is fortunately mild. We've learned that a future, more virulent pandemic will devastate First Nations communities if the system does not improve. The H1N1 also shows why disease and viral infections cause needless deaths in First Nation communities every year.

So let's consider what we already know about the epidemiology of H1N1 at St. Theresa's.

2005-Canada's Public Health Agency warned that First Nations would be at risk in event of a pandemic unless inter-jurisdictional protocols were developed along with plans for delivering antivirals.
-2009, May 01-31-1356 people st the St. Theresa First Nation(total pop 3,200) visit the nursing station. That's more than 1/3 of the community. 567 of these reported respiratory illness. The nursing station reported the spike to Health Canada and provincial/regional health authorities.
May 4-Provincial health officials offer to provide anti-viral medication to St. Theresa's. Federal health officials, who have jurisdiction over the reserve, refuse (story)
May 4-30-The province repeats it's offer to bring anti-virals to St. Theresa 13 times. Each time Health Canada refuses.
-mid-May St. Theresa's school is closed to control the spread of the virus. Federal provincial health authorities are notified as well as the federal department of Indian Affairs. While this should have been a red flag, there has still been no testing for H1N1 at this point and federal officials continue to refuse offers of help from the province.
May 26-27 Because there has been no testing for H1N1, no warning is issued to avoid large gatherings. A Manitoba General Chief's Assembly is held at St. Theresa Point.
May 26-June 1- Health officials fly two additional nurses and two doctors to St. Theresa Point
May 26-June 1 - 7 people including 2 pregnant women are medivaced to Winnipeg with suspected H1N1
May 29-June 6 -Testing for H1N1 begins
June 1-5-The spike in continues, 96 cases of respiratory illness are reported to the nursing station in 5 days.
June 2- Media first picks up the story that 7 people including 2 pregnant women have been medivaced to Winnipeg from St. Theresa
June 3 - The federal government finally accepts the province's offer to help, anti-virals and masks are sent to the community.
June 3 - One of the pregnant women miscarries, the other delivers by emergency C-setcion. The two women and infant are in critical condition.
June 3 - Two cases of H1N1 are confirmed at St. Theresa Point First Nation, a third case is confirmed at nearby South Indian Lake.
June 3- The total number of hospitalized patients from St.Theresa's doubles to 20, hundreds more in the community complain of respiratory illness
June 4- St. Theresa Chief David McDougall holds a press conference with two other chiefs from a neighbouring reserve. He complains of the initial slow action, poor communications and the government's refusal to build a hospital to serve remote First Nations communities. They also state that a lack of running water in some communities and over-crowded housing (12 persons per home) make it difficult to comply to health and safety recommendations such as avoiding gatherings and hand washing.
June 5 - Manitoba Health Minister Theresa Oswald goes public with allegations that federal officials originally refused help from he province. She adds that federal officials have refused to participate on press conference to share information with the public.
June 5th - Federal officials agree to participate in future press conferences. They send an epidemiologist to the community to investigate how the virus spread.

If anything you've read here makes you concerned, please send and email to:
Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq at:
Or Provincial Health Minister Theresa Oswald at:
And please CC Don Kelly at the Assembly of First Nations at:
As well as the Alexandra Paul at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs at:

Other posts on this topic:
June 10: No Doctors, No Nurses, but emergency hand sanitizer is on its way
June 6: If it isn't racism, what is it?
June 5: Feds slow to respond to First Nation pandemic planning: Manitoba
June 4: Another update H1N1
June 3:More on H1N1 at St. Theresa Point First Nation
June 2: Please follow this story. Please write to your MP



Ani said...

Thank you for the insight. The numbers are shocking, and I agree with you that systemic racism seems to be hard at work.

Ward of the State said...

Thank you Ani, I am not one to use the "r" word lightly. In this case, it just struck me.No other Canadian would tolerate such treatmenty but more importantly no other Canadian would be asked to.

Anonymous said...

May 4-30-The province repeats it's offer to bring anti-virals to St. Theresa 13 times. Each time Health Canada refuses....

There is something very 'wrong' with that. And we don't have to even discuss whether racism is part of it, that's a given. I don't trust the above statement and I want proof of it. That is the clinchpin. I hang my head in shame.

Wideye said...

Yes, thanks WS...Especially for posting the chronological dates.
I know Anon....13 times? It's beyond shocking. It should be criminal. If requests were made and refusals given - records were kept and I'd like to see them too.

Ward of the State said...

Hi Anon,
Thank you for the comment.
I agree that the 13 anti-viral refusals is one key point, and definately the most controversial one. I think that proof will come int eh epidemiologists report. I just hope it's made public (they could wrap it up under privacy laws). If it's not I'll have to see if I can somehow get my hands on it through Indian Country.

Aside fromt eh antivirals issue, I se others at play here 1) Knowing that First Nations are at high-risk for a pandemic, and based on the urgent recommendations of PHAC four years ago, in 2005, why are First Nation the ONLY communities in Canada without pandemic plans. 2) Why, when Canada is on alert for H1N1 did they wait one-month to test for the virus in a small community where 500 people showed up with respiratory illness? Why was the school closing also not seen as a red flag? 3) If it isn’t true that the feds refused anti-virals 13 times, why weren't they brought in? Did the 2 pregnant women receive anti virals? 4) Why did anti-virals and testing only occur when media got hold of the story? 5) When are we going to address the many other issues related to this? Over-crowded housing, a lack of running water, and the many other issues where a lack of services causes health-risks in communities?

When I say this is systematic racism, it’s not that I think folks in the office are purposely creating the circumstances to delay health care. But what I do believe is that among bureaucrats, politicians, accept that it's perfectly ok to offer poorer quality health services to First Nations - unless it makes it into the news and starts to upset non-native Canadians, that is.

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