On May 31, a terrible helicopter accident near the airport in Moosonee took the lives of four dedicated healthcare heroes for the Ontario James Bay First Nations. All First Nations are very grateful for the hard work and dedication of flight and paramedic crews that service remote Native communities all across Canada. In particular, we give thanks and honour the memories of the four Ornge Ontario air ambulance service staff members who lost their lives. They were Capt. Don Filliter (Skead, ON), First Officer Jacques Dupuy (Otterburn Park, QC), Primary Care Flight Paramedic Dustin Dagenais (Moose Factory) and Primary Care Flight Paramedic Chris Snowball (Burlington, ON).

Perhaps it will take some time to understand what happened that fateful night as the 30-year-old helicopter took off from Moosonee airport shortly after midnight only to crash into the forest moments into flight. Often, early reports in aircraft accidents tend to place the blame on human error, but there is so much to consider and it will take time to determine exactly what happened. Whatever the cause, we can only imagine the grief and sadness that all the families and friends of those who perished are feeling and will continue to experience for many years to come.

We owe it to all the families of those brave souls who lost their lives to be supported in the short and long term. We must ensure that their needs emotionally and financially are taken care of in an effort to assist all the families who have lost so much with the passing of their loved ones. We often take for granted the professionals in high-risk positions who service our First Nations. These pilots, paramedics, doctors and nurses fly in and out of Native communities to care for our people every day, in all kinds of weather, all across this country. We need to remember the efforts and risks they take on our behalf.

Regretfully, part of the reason we need to put these professionals in positions of risk is that our health-care system is not properly supported. Federal, provincial and all First Nation governments should be making sure that our health-care system adequately funds doctors, nurses and access to specialists all over this country – and that includes remote communities.

I hear so much talk about how our health-care system is failing us. At the same time I see that governments are allowing more private healthcare corporations to operate in Canada and I see less commitment being made to our great national system. We need to make health care, education and senior care major priorities in this country again and then we will see the results we deserve as a wealthy first-world nation.

I was born and raised in Attawapiskat where, although there was a hospital, we didn’t have a full-time doctor. The nurses did a fantastic job but much of the time it was necessary to fly patients out of the community to receive medical care in the south. In this day and age we should have the best health-care system in the world so that everybody has fair access to medical care and follow-up. Right now, remote First Nations are very much in third-world status when it comes to medical care because we do not have full-time doctors on-site and the necessary equipment to service our people for most health-care needs. This has to change.

Why is it that we can find billions of dollars to go to war over oil in foreign countries and risk the lives of our military men and women, but we don’t commit to doing a good job at funding health care, education and senior care? Those billions we are using to kill and maim people in other countries could be spent more wisely on helping our own people here in Canada.

We should be training more doctors and other health-care professionals and providing direction for them to service the north in a big way. We need to put much more money and time into developing more health-care services everywhere across Canada. This will be money well spent and would mean that there would be less risk for people considering that they could receive most medical care in their own community hospitals rather than have to be flown out so often.

Big health insurance companies in the United States continually have their eyes on our health-care system and their mouths are watering to turn Canada into the multi-tiered pay-as-you-go situation that people have to deal with south of our border. We need to remember that we are different when it comes to caring for our people and we need to make sure not to be bullied, pressured or tricked into letting our healthcare system die a death of a thousand cuts. Too many lives depend on our commitment to a first-rate, publicly funded, universal and accessible health care for all Canadians. No matter where they live.

Making that commitment would be a fitting memorial to Capt. Filliter, First Officer Dupuy, Primary Care Flight Paramedic Dagenais and Primary Care Flight Paramedic Snowball.