OTTAWA – Thank you very much for the invitation to be part of this panel today – I’m very honoured to be here to take part in this important discussion. As the Ontario Regional Chief and Chair of the National Assembly of First Nations Chiefs’ Committee on Health, this is a topic that I am very passionate about – and one where I bring much concern with current issues and challenges for First Nations as Canada’s modern Health Crisis.
Health equity is something that First Nations have been fighting for since the settler nations first set foot on North America. We know that our people were strong, healthy and knew how to take of themselves and each other through their relationship with Creator and the land. But that all changed in a very short timeline as colonialism impacted the health of our people by taking away our self-governance and our inherent treaty rights were ignored. You are likely all familiar with the term Social Determinants of Health, but health inequity is probably one of the most important concepts and realities that must be explored and mitigated for First Nations in Canada.
Today we have very critical health issues facing our citizens and we lose people tragically on a daily basis – to Canada’s Health Crisis.
- We have children taking their lives by suicide as young as 10 years of age; we have children dying of strep throat, a completely treatable infection.
- We lose people of all ages to drug addiction, related to the grief and trauma endured through generations.
- We lose elders who die from stroke because they’re treated as drunks.
- And babies are lost to foster homes because they are apprehended at birth instead of being supported within the traditional family structure and culture.
Just this week two of our remote northern communities were threatened with the closure of their nursing stations, losing any
Health support within the community because of a staffing shortage of nurses, leaving those citizens with telemedicine as their closest option! A temporary solution has been reached, but a crisis within any of those communities has drastic results as we have seen with recent Health emergencies in the north. Even in central and southern communities, these inequities exist as the government has systematically cut back supports to First Nations to where we cannot continue to function. Boiled water advisories exist in almost half of Ontario communities, due to inequities in funding for infrastructure. Friends, this is 3rd World Canada!
Also, the recent Tribunal decision on Child Welfare is a prime example of the inequities endured and the extreme measures that were needed to prove the inequities in funding over so many years to Indigenous Child welfare agencies.
The Sixties’ Scoop is now becoming publicized so that Canadians can perhaps have some understanding of what is meant by that intergenerational trauma we talk about and why we can’t “just get over it”. Identities stolen – the “Broken Chain of Motherhood” (a term coined by Dr. Michael Dan) is the tragic scenario that describes the emotional and physiological impacts of the residential school system that also applies to what happens when a 60s Scoop survivor continually faces PTSD due to the tragic theft of their identity and loss of connection to mother and family of origin.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is calling on the federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments to acknowledge that the current state of Indigenous health in Canada is a direct result of Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognize and implement the heath care rights of Indigenous people as identified in international law, constitutional law and under the treaties.
The TRC made a number of health recommendations, including identifying and analyzing the gaps in health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, funding Indigenous healing centres and providing cultural competency training for all health care professionals. This must include education on the real history of Canada and how those inequities have become ingrained in policy and practice across the board.
I am happy, and honoured to see so many of you students here who are interested in looking at ways of delivering health care to reduce and eliminate these inequities. We need strong individuals who are committed to breaking down the barriers within health systems that create those inequities and to building up capacity for community based solutions. First Nations are geared up to break down these barriers and start working collaboratively with federal and provincial partners as well as researchers and other committed parties in building up the health of our nations.
I look forward to discussions here with the other panelists and the participants and hearing your views on health equity – globally and at home.
These types of forums are so important for sharing our knowledge and experiences so that there is greater understanding and mutual respect for each other. So once again I thank you for inviting me to be a part of this – I commend you for this willingness to collaborate.
Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day