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First Nations cancel meeting with health officials

Plans for release of cancer statistics causes rift

By Marty Klinkenberg, Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - The Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations have cancelled a meeting in Fort Chipewyan on Thursday with officials from Alberta Health Services who planned to release new cancer statistics in the northern community.

Steve Courtoreille, chief of the Mikisew Cree band, said Tuesday night that the meeting was called off after Alberta Health Services turned down a request for an advance copy of the report from the local Nunee Health Authority.

In December, Dr. James Talbot, the province’s chief medical officer, announced that updated figures from the Alberta Cancer Registry would be shared with leaders in Fort Chipewyan as early as January. Data from the registry compiled in 2009 had found rates of certain rare types of cancer 30 per cent above normal in the aboriginal community that sits at the edge of Lake Athabasca and downwind of the oilsands.

“This is very frustrating to us,” Courtoreille said. “The local health authority requested to have a look at the documents before the meeting so we knew what was happening every step of the way.

“This is how mistrust occurs.”

Attempts were made to reach officials at Alberta Health Services on Tuesday night to no avail.

The breakdown in relations is the latest in a series between the bands and government. Both First Nations recently expressed frustration while withdrawing from the joint federal-provincial oilsands environmental monitoring group; before that a cancer study long promised by government was scrapped at the last minute in a dispute over the terms of reference.

Courtoreille was upset on Tuesday night.

“This does not sit well with us,” the chief said. “Government is going to try to make us look the bad guys, and we are not. They aren’t living up to their end.

“It is the same old, same old.”

Timothy Wilson, the issues manager for Alberta Health, said officials were unaware the meeting had been cancelled and that Talbot still planned to travel to Fort Chipewyan on Thursday.

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