Canadian courts have consistently ruled that free health care was not guaranteed to signatories of Treaty Six. However, Treaty Six nations across Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba recently convened at the Thunderchild Reserve in Saskatchewan to propose a health system autonomous from the federal government. Thunderchild band spokesman Eldon Okanee features in this excerpt from the article.
Despite the presence of Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) senator Sol Sanderson and vice-chief Guy Lonechild, who holds the health portfolio, many of the dignitaries at the gathering were critical of the First Nations political bodies.
The FSIN and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) are not signatories to any treaty and as such, "they do not speak for us. Nobody speaks for us," said Okanee.
"The AFN does not represent First Nations as well as it should," echoed Chief Rose Labouchane of the Driftpile First Nation in northern Alberta....
Treaty Six was created in 1876 and has 50 First Nation signatories, including two bands from Manitoba, 17 from Alberta and 31 from Saskatchewan, totalling about 30,000 people.
One of the selling points for the original signatories was the promise of a vaguely-termed medicine chest. Rather than referring to a first aid kit with some gauze and bandages, First Nations contend the intent of the term is full health-care coverage.
In 1935, a federal court judge agreed, ruling the definition of the medicine chest clause should be interpreted as meaning that "all medicines, drugs, or medical supplies which might be required by the Indians ... were to be supplied to them free of charge." But that has been contested by Ottawa and the provinces, and argued in the courts ever since.
In 1971, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled "the terms of Treaty No. 6 do not impose upon the Government of Canada the obligation of providing, without cost, medical and hospital services to all Indians." That ruling stemmed from a $72 matter in 1966, in which a First Nation man accused of unlawfully failing to pay the Saskatchewan Hospitalization Act Tax ($48) and the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act premium ($24). He was acquitted in a trial in 1969 but the Court of Appeal overturned that decision two years later.