KAMSACK — Sod was turned over for a new health care facility at Keeseekoose First Nation that will improve health care access for three local First Nations.
On Sept. 11, Ted Quewezance, the master of ceremonies for the morning, welcomed everyone to Keeseekoose, emphasizing the importance of the day for the community.
Quewezance proceeded to introduce the head table, including Chief George Cote of Cote First Nation, the Chairperson of the Saulteaux Pelly Agency Health Alliance; Chief Lee Kitchemonia of Keesekoose, and various representatives from different organizations involved in the project. He emphasized the collaborative effort between the three First Nations communities, The Key First Nation, Cote, and Keeseekoose, and highlighted the elders' vision for a hospital and treatment centre.
Elders made project possible: Quewezance
“I'm not a person that says I did the job,” Quewezance said. “I'll tell you what made it happen. What made it happen was all our elders. They had the vision that we should get our own hospital and once we got that direction from the elders, we carried on through it. Without the prayers without the ceremonies, we wouldn't be sitting here today.
“We first started with our 20-bed treatment centre. The elders there again gave us the direction, we had to get a treatment centre. And then they said, ‘Why not get a hospital? Why not get a detox centre?’ The vision was there in the elders and the chiefs.
“We went through seven chiefs who sat on our board working on this project. And every chief who participated was part of where we are here today. We had a lot of meetings and a lot of people thought we would never pull it off. But what happened was a lot of hard work, a lot of paperwork. We had 120 steps to get to where we are today. And even as we move forward from here, the architect has probably another 110 more steps he has to follow, no different from the contractor.”
Quewezance touched upon the challenges and negotiations that took place during the project's development, stating that it was a joint effort involving multiple leaders and community members. He emphasized the importance of maintaining a positive and collaborative attitude to achieve common goals.
“The amount of the project was $32 million when we started, when we first announced it and we went with the lowest bid tender. We had nine tenders I do believe and we went with the lowest tender of $41 million and we had to negotiate with Ottawa. I think it took us four or five days to get an extra $12 million to bring the project up to 44 million.”
He also addressed some rumours and misconceptions surrounding the project, emphasizing that the hospital would benefit everyone in the community and that there were no plans for outside organizations to take over health care in the area.
“But another message I give to everybody here is anything you want in a community and I'm talking to the leadership, talking to the youth and to the elders. Anything you want we could get it, it's a matter of getting along and being nice to one another instead of being critical. And this is something that's going to benefit many of us. It's going to benefit our young people. It's going to benefit our elders, our women, our children. There's talk going on right now that the Saulteaux Pelly Health Alliance is gonna take over health in the three communities. There's absolutely no truth to that. And that's the negativity that's coming up now. And it's very sad.”
Quewezance expressed gratitude for the support and contributions of various individuals and organizations, particularly the elders, and stressed the significance of the project for future generations. He highlighted the training and employment opportunities the project would create for community members.
“Another rumour is, are public health people are going to run the hospital. There's absolutely no truth to that. It's professional people. We're going to be training our own people. We've got a two-year program being lined up and we're looking for employees. We’re working with 14 doctors out of Regina and we have a team of nurses, and nurse practitioners that are putting the program together for us and with us.”
Lastly, he encouraged the youth to pursue careers in health care and acknowledged the role of the youth in shaping the community's future. Quewezance also recognized the presence of the children from the school and their importance in witnessing the historical event.
Following the opening remarks, Kitchemonia and Cote delivered their speeches, expressing their gratitude, discussing the project's significance, and emphasizing the importance of collaboration and community support.
Won't have to leave to get health care: Chief Kitchemonia
“It's an honour to have anybody come to our community at any time, especially for an event like this,” Kitchemonia said. “This is a historical event.
“This is something that's going to positively affect our community for the next four or five decades for sure. It's a hospital. It's the first that I know of that's situated on reserve land.
“When I first heard about this hospital when it started, I immediately thought, that's a great idea. I just came on as a supporter a couple of years later, just cheering from the sidelines. When I was elected chief, I wanted to offer as much support as I could to the team.
“It was a real good team effort. Everybody played their role, everybody did their work. We had so many people involved in this, it wasn't just one person. It was a joint effort by the community elders from the different communities: The Key, Cote and Keeseekoose. This is a really good thing for our communities. We're starting to take over our health care slowly, we're bringing it home. With this new facility, we won't have to go to Kamsack or Canora or Yorkton for the things that we normally would, and wait for hours and hours. You know, I think each of us has experienced that from time to time where we go and wait four or five hours in a waiting room.
“This will help that. We're going to start training our own people for the professional jobs in our nurse program, even for the construction of it, we'll have members from two communities working here. We have equal shares in the amount of work that we're gonna give out. So everybody's a player, everybody's gonna play a role in this, all three communities will play a role. You know that the more we achieve, the more we want to achieve, and it's just one of those things where you're looking at that and you think to yourself, if I can accomplish that, if we can accomplish this as a community, imagine what else we can accomplish. So we just keep on striving and striving.
“That's one of the reasons why I brought our children here from the school. I wanted them to witness this historical event, so they can grow up and say, ‘I remember when I was a kid, I went there and watched when we did the groundbreaking ceremony,’ and 20 or 30 years down the road they'll all be leaders too. Eventually there's gonna be a leader or two or three or four out of this group of young adults here. That's what we got to keep looking forward to is the future, teaching our young kids how to be kind to one another and how to respect one another and how to support one another.”
'It's not only for us, it's for the surrounding communities as well': Chief Cote
In his speech, Cote also acknowledged the role of the youth in the community's future and encouraged them to pursue careers in health care.
“Here we are in Treaty Four Territory and Keeseekoose First Nation, neighbours Cote First Nation and The Key First Nation, three First Nations that had a vision with the elders and the leaders of today and the leaders of the past that sat here before us, have been with SPA chair for the last seven years and I'll tell you, it was not a very easy path that we went on. There were a lot of negotiations that have been taking place, a lot of ups and downs, but we took the time to step back.
“We thank the elders for the ceremonies that they had and the prayers that they put forward for this day of history that we're making. We will treat you right to health. That is very important for our youth and it's really great to see the youth that are here today.
“This multi-purpose health facility is going to be serving our three First Nations and the surrounding communities. It's not only for us, it's for the surrounding communities as well. You're more than welcome to get the services that they need. I'm sure that there will be a lot of stress taken off our community health workers in the three communities.”
Look forward to continued work: MLA Dennis
Terry Dennis, the MLA for Canora-Pelly, spoke about the collaboration between the provincial government and the First Nations to enhance health care in the region.
“Kids are always close to my heart and when we see them come out to an event like this, it’s exciting. I'm glad that our province is growing. We're we're providing opportunities for you young ones to be able to sit, stay in your communities and find great opportunities for work and labour in health care and an event like this is just fabulous, and with the government of Saskatchewan and Scott Moe as the premier. It's always nice that we can partner to enhance the health care right here in my constituency and serve the three reserves here. So with that, I'd like to congratulate you guys and look forward to continued work.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the official groundbreaking, with the dignitaries and project management team members participating. An honour song performed by Ralph Keshane paid tribute to the hard work and dedication of all involved before the sod-turning ceremony commenced.
Following the ceremony, interviews were conducted for potential employees, and refreshments were served. The project is expected to create numerous job opportunities and improve healthcare services for the three First Nations communities.
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