Norway House Cree Nation apology to nurse and doctors is to be commended

Last week, Norway House Cree Nation Chief Marcel Balfour, on behalf of his community, apologized to a nurse who he said had been wrongly forced out of Norway House 10 years ago by a previous band council after an infant death.The Norway House Cree Nation apology was also extended to five doctors who supported the nurse and soon left the community."The story of the apology pretty much passed as a one-day news wonder in most media outlets, rating five paragraphs in the province's largest daily newspaper in Winnipeg. While bloggers were generally supportive of Balfour's move, some comments were tinged with, shall we say, considerable skepticism, suggesting the timing of the apology may have been motivated mainly by an urgent need to recruit more medical professionals to Norway House, especially as H1N1 human swine flu once again is perhaps poised to bear down on Northern Manitoba's First Nations reserves.

Doing the right thing in such circumstances is never an unremarkable act and Balfour and his band council deserve to be commended for having both the political and ethical courage to do the right thing. Apologies, heartfelt and true, can be powerful instruments that begin a healing process, which is why Prime Minister Stephen Harper was widely and rightly commended in June 2008 for the Conservative government's residential schools apology in the House of Commons."In 1999, in response to an infant fatality at the Norway House Indian Hospital, the then chief and council forced the removal of a nurse who worked at the hospital," Balfour said. "After a clear indication of no fault by the nurse in a post-mortem examination, five physicians supported the nurse and soon left the community." On Sept. 22, Jim Wolfe, Health Canada First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) regional director, was in Norway House, and as the employer of the nurse, received the apology. Sandra Gibbs accepted the apology from the local Norway House Indian Hospital. Dr. Hanka Hulsbosh accepted the apology as one of the doctors who did not renew their contracts after the incident. Dr. Bruce Martin, director of the University of Manitoba's J.A. Hildes Northern Medical Unit accepted the apology as the employer of the physicians. The J.A. Hildes Northern Medical Unit, established in 1970, delivers health care to Norway House, Churchill, and Hodgson in Manitoba and Rankin Inlet in Nunavut, staffed by full-time physicians. The First Nations communities of Island Lake, Poplar River, Berens River, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, Bloodvein, Grand Rapids, and Chemawawin are visited by Northern Medical Unit family practitioners. Rose Neufeld accepted the apology from Manitoba Health and Healthy Living.

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The responsibility for public health services in the community was transferred to Norway House Cree Nation by FNIHB in 1998. Public health services are provided to all residents of the community, regardless of status, in accordance with a 1964 agreement.

The history of the Norway House Indian Hospital dates back to the First World War. The Department of National Health and Welfare opened a small Hospital near the United Church Mission located in the Rossville area within the community. The building burned down during the winter of 1918-19. When this occurred temporary quarters were used until another facility was built.

In 1925, a two storey nursing station was built in the Rossville area comprised of five inpatient beds. In 1952 the nursing station burnt down before the completion of construction of the current Norway House Indian Hospital.

The hospital is an acute care facility, owned and operated by the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) of Health Canada.Balfour said he offered a "sincere apology for the negative effects of the actions of elected representatives from Norway House Cree Nation and expressed his profound regret to representatives of the parties affected by these actions. Gifts were presented to the recipients of the apologies to mark this occasion. The ceremony was concluded with remarks from the guests and followed

by a feast prepared by the community."

The chief said, "Council and I are pleased to have initiated this historic event: it apologizes for the recognized inappropriate actions of a few that has affected a number of people for the last decade - from the nurse and doctors involved to the community for the ongoing impact on the provision of health services here in Norway House."

Balfour said the "apology is the first step in reconciliation and part of a number of strategies intended to create a positive and supportive environment to enable recruitment and retention of physicians, nurses and other vital health professionals. Reconciliation is a journey. We are proud to show today that politics no longer interferes with the provision of health care services in Norway House. The challenge now remains to begin our journey and implement strategies to commit to our ongoing approach to health and get doctors and health professionals in Norway House."

Strategies include the creation of Norway House Health Services, a non-political entity established for oversight of community health programs and hospital services in the future.

Plans also are being developed to provide a proper working environment through a state-of-the art primary care and hospital facility and through acquiring enhanced broadband services.

"We are taking steps to continue towards our goal to provide a welcoming and technologically enabled environment for health professionals so that all residents of Norway House will have access to high quality health services."

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