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First Nations groups upset with exclusion from health-care funding talks

First Nations groups are criticizing their exclusion from an upcoming meeting between federal, provincial and territorial governments aiming to reach a funding deal to improve the country’s ailing health-care system.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in Saskatchewan said in a Thursday news release both it and the national Assembly of First Nations (AFN) are “dismayed” by the snub.

“Our people and their government were here before the provincial borders were even formed,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron in the release.

“There is no reconciliation for First Nations when we continue to be excluded from these crucial discussions and decision-making processes.”

Trudeau announced this week he plans to host a first ministers’ meeting in Ottawa next month to try and reach a much-anticipated deal. First ministers’ meetings under Trudeau’s Liberals have previously included Indigenous leaders.

Health-care delivery in Indigenous communities is jurisdictionally complex, and the federal government has promised to introduce Indigenous health legislation, though it remains unclear when.

The FSIN, which advocates for 74 First Nations, said provincial governments use First Nations populations to secure funding and yet First Nations still experience racism and inadequate care in health-care settings.

“Our people don’t have access to the same services and care as non-First Nations. We expect and demand to be at the table every step of the way from beginning to end,” Cameron said in the release.

The AFN didn’t respond when asked if it had anything to add to the top of the federation’s statement.

The premiers have asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government for a multi-billion-dollar boost of up to 35 per cent to the cash Ottawa transfers to the provinces for health-care delivery.

Asked to respond to the federation’s release, the Prime Minister’s Office referred the request to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, whose office supplied a statement.

“Indigenous Peoples face unique challenges when it comes to having fair and equitable access to quality and culturally safe health-care services, and we must continue to work in partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis to properly address these gaps,” the statement said.

The statement said the federal government regularly engages with Indigenous communities on a suite of issues and has invested millions into culturally sensitive, Indigenous-led health initiatives.

It did not say whether Indigenous leaders will be included in the talks.