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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Better healthcare for James Bay

BY Xavier Kataquapit Jul 3, 2024

There has been some good news lately in honouring agreements and righting wrongs when it comes to Indigenous peoples on the James Bay coast. The big news was the announcement by Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu of $1.2 billion for the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) for their Hospital Redevelopment Project.

This funding will go towards multiple developments including a new hospital, administrative offices, staff accommodations and an ambulatory care centre on Moose Factory Island. In these days of creeping privatization of our healthcare system it is good to see our governments investing in public healthcare. 

In addition to the $1.2 billion federal investment, this will go with the $1.3 billion Ontario had already committed. Also recently announced was an additional $44 million from the Ontario government to ensure that this construction remains on track. In 2018, the federal government had committed to provide $158.4 million to support the construction of the new WAHA hospital. There was a delay in getting things moving and finally through the efforts of many stakeholders the funding was announced.  

The WAHA takes its name Weeneebayko from the word we use to refer to James Bay. The organization provides vital healthcare services to people on the eastern James Bay and Hudson Bay coast. 

My parents Marius and Susan Kataquapit were both involved with our local hospital services in Attawapiskat. They always reminded us of how important it is that our communities have modern services. They grew up in a time when any serious injury or illness meant life or death because no modern medical facilities existed in the community. 

Mom worked in the kitchen and dad worked as part of the maintenance department at the original St. Mary’s Hospital in Attawapiskat. They later moved on to the new hospital established in the 1980s. They also lived for a time in Moosonee and saw how important the main hospital was in Moose Factory. They reminded us often that at one point it was such an important facility that it took in patients and clients as far north as the Inuit territory. Dad got to know so many Inuit at the hospital that he learned a little of their language. 

In my own experience, I spent a month at the Moose Factory hospital during the annual spring breakup when I was seven years old in 1983. I had broken my leg that winter and since I was still recovering with a full leg cast, my parents couldn’t properly care for me at our wilderness camp as there was the danger of possible flooding. 

I recall the huge open rooms of the old hospital and the separate areas they moved us to every morning to sit in the sun surrounded by windows. Little did I realize that the hospital had been built as a tuberculosis sanatorium to help patients recover from the illness. 

WAHA said in a press release that the new health campus will replace the 75-year-old Weeneebayko General Hospital, Canada’s oldest unrenovated hospital. This is welcome news for the health of everyone on the James Bay coast. 

This was all made possible through the dedication and advocacy of so many people who saw how important it was to provide such vital services to people on the James Bay coast. In my parents’ time, they taught us that these critical medical services are important to establish and to fight for. 

As WAHA president Lynne Innes stated, “In the spirit of truth and reconciliation I am thankful and appreciate Canada in fulfilling their commitment to our new healthcare campus in Moosonee and ambulatory care centre in Moose Factory. This is a pivotal step to ensuring the health, safety and dignity of our First Nations communities.” 

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Xavier Kataquapit is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast. He is a writer and columnist who has written about his life and Indigenous issues since 1998.