Swine flu hit First Nations in Manitoba especially hard in the spring and leaders are upset they had to ask to be invited to an international conference in Winnipeg this week.
“We gotta be sitting at those tables, not being excluded. Decisions are being made behind closed doors, without First Nations input,” said David Harper, chief of the Garden Hill First Nation, one of the Manitoba communities that struggled with swine flu, also known as the H1N1 influenza A virus.
Medical experts from across Canada and around the world were gathering in Winnipeg on Wednesday and Thursday for a conference on preparation for the resurgence of H1N1 in the fall.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the pandemic conference is the first of its kind. She said delegates will review possible outcomes of the epidemic, and develop standardized guidelines for medical personnel in rural communities and hospital intensive care units.
A number of First Nations leaders are attending, but only after they approached organizers and asked why they weren’t part of it.
Canada’s chief public health officer David Butler-Jones said the conference will play a key role in determining many of Canada’s H1N1 guidelines for the fall flu season.
“The conference will bring together information from around the world and our experience in Canada to guide a whole range of things: everything from what’s the most effective treatments of this (to) what have we learned for who is greatest at risk for this?” he said.
Traditional aboriginal healers like Derek Woods, from Dakota Tipi First Nation, want to share their knowledge of natural flu medicines and say it should be part of the solution.
Woods said yarrow combined with other herbs and plants and made into tea helps fight flu symptoms like fevers and headaches.
“It’s there, and it comes from the Creator, and he always puts that medicine there. Everything is here to heal us,” he said.
Grand Chief Sydney Garrioch of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), an organization representing most First Nations communities in northern Manitoba, said he’s disappointed by the lack of information flowing to First Nations around pandemic planning.