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The Health Plan For Indians

In 1947 a special Commons committee on Indian Affairs presented its recommendations in a paper called "The Plan To Liquidate Canada's Indian Problem Within 25 Years."

Their plan was to abolish the special status of Indians and integrate them into the rest of Canadian society.

One of the methods implemented at that time to do away with the Indian's special status was to transfer services for Indians from the department of Indian Affairs to other federal departments and the provincial governments.

In 1947, as part of this plan that had as one of its goals the eventual phasing out of the department of Indian Affairs, the responsibility for Indian health services was transferred to the department of national health and welfare.

In 1968, at a time when the government was supposedly in the process of consulting with Indian people about their future in Canada, the department of national health and welfare circulated a plan that had as its goal the eventual transfer of complete responsibility for Indian health services to the band councils and the provinces.

Ignoring Indian claims that free health care was a right promised in their treaties, Indian Health Services has consistently maintained that it is responsible to assist only those Indians who are unable to finance their own health care.

That position was reiterated at the April All-Chief's Conference in Regina by Dr. Kirkbride, Saskatchewan Regional Director of Indian Health Services, when he said "assistance towards health services will be offered to needy Indian people living on reserves."

The fact that no Indian living on a Saskatchewan reserve pays for his health care is due to the difficulty of determining need for administrative purposes, according to Dr. Kirkbride. In other words, the department considers all Indians living on reserves to be "needy" and only for that reason extends to them health services.

Since January of this year, by agreement with the Saskatchewan Government, free medical services are also extended to all registered Indians living off the reserve.

The thing to remember is that while no Indian in Saskatchewan pays for health care at the present time, both the federal and provincial governments feel that this is a privilege they can withdraw at any time. In fact, as can be evidenced by the 1968 "Health Plan for Indians in Canada" as described above, the federal government has made active plans to withdraw this service to Indians.

The treaties Saskatchewan Indians signed with the government are explicit about medical and social services, as were the promises made when the treaties were being signed.

Treaty 6 explicitly states that "a medicine chest shall be kept at the house of each Indian Agent for the use and benefit of the Indians...". In their talks with Treaty Commissioner Morris, Indians were told that this was to safeguard against sickness amongst them. In answer to their requests, Indians were told they would be "supplied with medicine free of cost."

When Treaties 8 and 10 were explained, it was promised "that supplies of medicines...would be distributed free to those Indians who might require them." The Treaty Commissioner stated in both Treaties 8 and 10 that "we assured them, however, that the government would always be ready to avail itself of any opportunity of affording medical all Indians whom he might find in need of treatment...".