Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday, with plans to transform health care for people living on northern Manitoba First Nations.

The MOU is a bilateral agreement between MKO and federal government, and both MKO Grand Chief Sheila North and Federal Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott were on hand for the signing.

The historic event was years in the making, with North explaining that Manitoba Chiefs have advocated for better access to health services since 1981.

“We’re told by our people, and our chiefs hear it every day, that the health care system in the north is not working for our people,” said North.

MKO is looking to bring clinical care “closer to home,” so residents don’t have to leave their communities to receive treatment or see medical professionals.

The agreement is meant to close gaps and better coordinate health care systems, as well as improve recruitment and retention of health care professionals.

The first phase of MKO’s work will also explore the idea of establishing a First Nations-led health authority.

Philpott said the Trudeau government is committed to supporting communities to find solutions from within.

“Today’s announcement is really about self-determination in health care,” said Philpott. “It’s about First Nations in control: designing, delivering, managing.”

Applauding the agreement, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said it was important that such conversations continue to happen.

“Manitoba has been a bastion of innovation and a bastion of leadership for decades,” said Dumas.

“And we know what it is we need for our communities and our people, and we’ll light the way.”

Norway House resident Kenneth Ducharme told CTV he’d love to see better access to services in his community.

The great-grandfather drove family members more than eight hours after his great-grandson was flown to Winnipeg due to a medical emergency.

“You gotta do what you have to,” said Ducharme.

While Ducharme said he wouldn’t hesitate to make the trip to help family, he said he looked forward to hearing about how the MOU would eventually be implemented.

For MKO, that will mean establishing a steering committee in the next two weeks to oversee the process.

North told CTV News the province was invited to be part of the agreement, but hadn’t yet come to the table.

A representative for Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living wrote via email that officials would be meeting with MKO next month to discuss the organization’s clinical care plan.