New approach will lead the way on First Nations’ health care
New approach will lead the way on first nations’ health care
By Doug Kelly, Vancouver Sun, November 16, 2011
In his Oct. 26 column, Economic independence needed, Fazil Mihlar uses powerful facts to paint a shockingly dismal picture of first nations’ “health status.”
Mihlar notes that the Canadian population is aging while the first nations population is significantly younger. He correctly says that it is in Canada’s interest, morally and economically, to improve the health of first nations members and draws attention to this shameful blight on Canada’s international reputation.
Sadly, however, like so many academics and so-called experts, Mihlar also prescribes an overly simplified treatment without undertaking a detailed review of the patient’s history.
Moreover, he is off-base when he asserts that many chiefs are part of the BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) crowd. Regrettably, this comment, other than blaming the victim, does little to address the serious issue of aboriginals’ health. Indeed, most, if not all, chiefs support sustainable economic development and job creation. First nations leaders want real partnerships with governments and industry to develop projects responsibly.
These chiefs share a common desire to provide for future generations and are part of the APPLE (Aboriginal Peoples Protecting Land and Environment) crowd.
Mihlar also ignores completely the root causes of the grim health status of first nations. This deplorable outcome is a direct result of more than a century of assimilation policy directed by the Canadian government. The goal of this policy was clear and simple: Separate the Indians from their land, resources and wealth in order to open it up to the settler society.
Canada passed laws to eliminate first nations’ languages, cultures and sacred ceremonies. Canada worked with churches to set up residential schools to beat the Indian out of the child. There is no mystery here: The causes of today’s first nations’ health status are clearly rooted in federal law and policy.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the residential schools. Putting powerful words of regret into action, the federal government, the British Columbia government and the First Nations Health Council are collaborating to create a B.C. First Nations Health Authority.
This new authority will renew policies and programs to enhance services and achieve improved health outcomes. It will take a “wellness” approach in delivering health services in a cost-effective manner.
Restoring first nations’ health requires both the revival of their cultures and restoring first nations to self-reliance. The country and the province must reconcile their shameful history of legislation and policy to eliminate the “Indian problem.”
Governments must toss out failing policies and impoverished treaty mandates. Governments must heed Superior Courts’ decisions, uphold the “honour of the Crown”, and meaningfully address consultation and accommodation of first nations title and economic interests. Achieving first nations’ wellness will require governments to take a partnership approach with B.C. first nations on education, child welfare, social development and economic development.
B.C. first nations have established councils to address health, education, child welfare, fisheries, and energy and mining. Governments have yet to make the most of opportunities to collaborate with these councils.
Through our historic first-of-itskind agreement, we will create deputy ministers’ tables. These tables, both federal and provincial, create an opportunity for the First Nations Health Council to address and influence legislation, policy and programs on the determinants of health (education, housing, child welfare, economic development and job creation).
In coming weeks and months, the health council will lead, provide oversight and ensure that we create a community-driven and nation-based first nations health authority. We will achieve significant improvement in the health status of B.C. first nations in one generation.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly of the Sto: lo Nation is the chair of the First Nations Health Council.
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