Manitoba chiefs furious after shipment from Health Canada
By Caroline Alphonso and Tu Thanh Ha
Aboriginal leaders said they were outraged and confused when dozens of body bags were delivered to remote Manitoba reserves after native communities demanded federal resources to fight a second wave of the H1N1 flu outbreak.
Chiefs interpreted the grim shipments as a dire prediction of what Ottawa expects will happen during this flu season to natives, who were hardest hit by swine flu in the spring.
Some communities didn't hold on to them for long. In a symbolic protest Wednesday evening, northern First Nations leaders returned a box of the bags to a Health Canada office in Winnipeg. Tossing more than a dozen of the polyethylene bags on the floor outside the building's lobby, Garden Hill First Nation chief David Harper called the deliveries “an insult.”
“Is Canada giving up on the first nations?” Mr. Harper asked in an interview. “We're very offended. It looks like Canada is giving up on us. Or is this the flu preparedness that Canada talks about?”
In many First Nations cultures, to prepare for death is to invite death, he said.
“We have been waiting for medical supplies and here all we receive is body bags,” he said. “The government has to do better.”
But Health Minister's statement, which calls move ‘insensitive and offensive,' falls short of personal apology demanded by Ignatieff over H1N1 packages delivered to native reserves
By Jane Taber
Calling the incident “insensitive and offensive,” Ms. Aglukkaq pledged to get to the bottom of the issue.
“I was born and raised in remote communities and I understand the challenges better than anyone–that's why I have met frequently with First Nations organizations,” she said in a statement released this morning. “Anyone suggesting that our government's solution to H1N1 is body bags is sensationalizing this situation.”
However, her statement fell short of a personal apology, something that Michael Ignatieff was demanding Thursday morning.
The Liberal Leader accused the government of being insensitive, saying its message is simple: “We expect aboriginal Canadians to die.”
Mr. Ignatieff is outraged over the government's handling of the H1N1 crisis, especially the latest controversy in aboriginal communities. He called the decision to send body bags to at Manitoba reserve “callous.”
“It sends a message that simply says we expect aboriginal Canadians to die and when it's combined with the fact … that they haven't sent preventative measures that can save those lives, it sends a message of callous of lack compassion,” Mr. Ignatieff said to reporters in an unusual morning scrum.
“I am genuinely shocked.”
Below: "Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq speaks during a news conference about the swine flu outbreak in Ottawa on April 27, 2009."