The federal government and the Kenora District Services Board say investigations are underway after two local paramedics allegedly refused to save a young man’s life in Onigaming First Nation on Thursday.
Chief Jeff Copenace alleges that when a young First Nations man went into medical distress and emergency responders were called around 10:30 a.m. of September 15, an ambulance with two Northwest EMS paramedics parked at the edge of the community and refused to help with the situation.
Chief Copenace says despite life-saving efforts from nearby community members and his family, the young man passed away. Copenace alleges that racism is a factor behind the incident.
“There was a big crowd of family and community members trying to save this young man’s life,” said Chief Copenace. “We could see the ambulance from our band office refusing to help. Everyone in the community could see them sitting there as this young man passed away.”
Chief Administrative Officer of the Kenora District Services Board – which is in charge of Northwest EMS staff – Henry Wall, says their board and the Ministry of Health are conducting extensive reviews of the situation to understand what took place.
“The incident in Onigaming First Nation is tragic. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family, community and all staff involved,” said Wall, noting he has spoken with Chief Copenace and has assured him that community members will be involved in the review process.
“It is essential that the truth of yesterday’s incident is known, and all levels of government take that action to ensure an incident like this will not happen again in Onigaming or any other community in our region,” Wall adds.
A number of politicians have urged the provincial and federal governments to act immediately.
“Racism and indifference get played out...on the lives of First Nations people every day,” said Kiiwetinoong MPP and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation critic, Sol Mamakwa. “What happened in Onigaming to this young man was a needless death.”
“Not being able to access urgent care is unacceptable,” said Federal Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu. “[Federal, provincial] & community leaders must work together to understand how this happened and make sure all people in Onigaming can get the care they need when they need it.”
“What happened is unacceptable,” said Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Marc Miller. “The family of the young man and the people of Onigaming deserve some clear answers.”
Information on the death from the Treaty Three Police Service or OPP was not made available.
A request for more information on paramedic safety practices in potentially dangerous situations was not returned by the KDSB.