Treaty Right to Health

Treaty Right to Health

First Nations possess constitutionally protected, Inherent and Treaty Rights to Health

The Inherent Rights to health and health care are granted by the Creator. First Nations are born with Inherent Rights and inherit them from generation to generation based on traditions, customs and practices. Inherent Rights include a traditional health system of: Medicine Women and Men; ceremonies and practices for healing and prevention; and medicines from minerals, animals, plants and water, traditional lands and resources. These are recognized and affirmed by the Constitution of Canada, common law, and international law.

Treaties are sacred covenants that were sanctified by prayers and ceremonies. First Nations law guided the leaders in their negotiations of the solemn agreements. The Treaties were carefully thought out by First Nation leaders with a lot of consideration given to securing a good life for future generations. Treaty 6 specifically includes the medicine chest clause as First Nations were fully aware of the new diseases and understood the importance of overall health. Treaty Commissioner Alexander Morris reports that the Indian people requested “provisions for the poor, unfortunate, blind and the lame” and “a free supply of medicines”.

The oral assurances and visual projections of medical aid and the provision of medical care during the Treaty negotiations were important to First Nations and form the basis for our understanding of the Treaty Right to Health. At the time Treaty was made, all Medicine chests contained the contemporary medicines of the period, as well as all the instruments used to compound, measure and dispense the drugs. Medical doctors often accompanied Treaty parties and dispensed medicine and provided medical care to demonstrate the health care available.

The Treaty Commissioner representing the Crown committed the following: “What you have will remain intact and what we have to offer you is on top of what you already have.” The First Nations had medicine bags (“mewut”) that contained medicine for the traditional health and health care system and the medicine chest is understood to provide for the contemporary health coverage and benefits.

It has been the long time position of First Nations that all health care and medicines are pre-paid and are to be provided to Treaty First Nations as promised in the Numbered Treaties. To this date, First Nations hold the Canadian government fully responsible for the cost of health care due to the legal obligations of Treaty. It is a Treaty Right that extends to all Numbered Treaties.

“The legal and political framework of the Inherent Rights and Powers, Treaties No. 1 to No. 11, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the Constitution Act 1982, the International Laws and the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the Inherent Rights and Treaty Rights to Health and Health Care for Indians.” -Senator Sol Sanderson

“For an understanding of the relationship between the Treaty Peoples and the Crown of Great Britain and later Canada, one must consider a number of factors beyond the treaty’s written text. First, the written text expresses only the government of Canada’s view of the treaty relationship: it does not embody the negotiated agreement. Even the written versions of treaties have been subject to considerable interpretation, and they may be scantily supported by reports or other information about the treaty negotiations.” -Sharon H. Venne, “Understanding Treaty 6: An Indigenous Perspective” in M. Asch, ed., Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Canada (2002)