A First Nations family in northern Manitoba is looking for answers as they grieve the loss of their two-year-old, who died last week after they say she was sent home from their community’s clinic without being treated.
Santaya Tyo-Greyeyes had a fever and was throwing up and having trouble breathing when her mother brought the toddler to the clinic on Norway House Cree Nation on June 27, aunt Bernadette Smith told reporters outside a Winnipeg funeral home Thursday.
The First Nation is about 500 kilometres north of the capital city.
Smith, who’s also the MLA for Winnipeg’s Point Douglas riding, said her niece was not assessed or triaged when she arrived. Instead, Smith said her sister, Angel Tyo, was told to give her daughter some Tylenol and bring her back if things got worse.
Tyo monitored her daughter through the night, when her condition didn’t get better or worse. Santaya died the next day, after her family rushed her back to the hospital when they found she had stopped breathing during a nap, Smith said.
Smith said her family believes the girl’s death could have been prevented — and they want accountability for how the situation was handled when they first went to the clinic, which is attached to the hospital.
The family is “fighting for justice for Santaya,” Smith said, adding her family is seeking an investigation into the child’s death.
“She doesn’t have a voice, but we have to be her voice now.”
Indigenous Services Canada said it’s aware of concerns about health care in Norway House and that a patient safety review was already underway at the time of the child’s death. CBC News asked if it would also conduct an investigation into the child’s death but has not yet received a response.
RCMP confirmed in an email they responded to a child death in the community on June 28 around 6:45 p.m. Under Manitoba’s Fatality Inquiries Act, all child deaths are investigated, spokesperson Cpl. Julie Courchaine said. In general, Mounties respond and take direction from the medical examiner, she said.
The Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, which receives notification of all deaths of people under 21 in the province, confirmed in an email the matter falls under that scope as there was “reviewable service involvement in the 12 months prior to the death of the child.”
Smith said her family still doesn’t know the cause of her niece’s death, but they’re expecting a preliminary autopsy report Thursday.
The family is also still dealing with questions surrounding the loss of another relative. Smith and Tyo’s sister, Claudette Osborne-Tyo, went missing in 2008. No one has seen or heard from her since.
Smith said Santaya also leaves behind her father, Jeff Greyeyes, and eight siblings who have been wondering what happened to their sister.
“This is a two-year-old little girl. This is a baby. No parent should be ever having to bury their child,” Smith said.
She said it’s especially disheartening that the incident happened in Norway House, the same community where Jordan River Anderson died in 2005 amid a disagreement over what level of government would pay for his health care.
His death sparked what’s now known as Jordan’s Principle.
That policy says that when federal and provincial governments disagree over which level is responsible for providing services to First Nations children, they have to help the child first and argue over the bills later.
“It’s concerning because Norway House is ground zero for Jordan’s Principle and then here you have another incident of lack of health care provided to First Nations children. This shouldn’t be happening,” Smith said.
Norway House Chief Larson Anderson said leadership in the community will help the family however they can as they grapple with the loss — one that he said is hitting the close-knit First Nation hard.
“This is a really devastating loss for us,” Anderson said.
“We want to get to the bottom of it, and to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a news release later Thursday his office has also been in contact with representatives of the child’s family and will seek answers to the questions surrounding her death.