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Northern Caucus Yields Positive Results – interim First Nations Health Authority

February 27, 2012

Prince George – Many First Nations Chiefs, health representatives and community members from Northern BC were in Prince George Feb. 15-16 for the First Nations Health Council (FNHC) Northern regional Health Caucus. A number of positive steps were taken in strengthening the voice of Northern First Nations united for a more functional health service structure while discussing future plans for First Nations Health governance and service delivery.

Highlights at the session included powerful keynote speeches from Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo and Aboriginal Health Advisor to the Provincial Health Officer Dr. Evan Adams, as well as approving Caucus Terms of Reference and moving forward on a Regional Partnership Accord with the Northern Health Authority.The Northern region of the province faces distinct health service challenges with the vast area of land, extremely remote communities and service delivery issues. These issues are not specific to the North but with such distance between Nations and the rest of the BC population it’s another reason for self-sufficiency in health care operations. The North includes almost two thirds of BC’s land base and has the highest proportion of Aboriginal people in any region of the province. The need for effective health care service delivery is clear and the Caucus session had a number of positive outcomes showing progress in the right direction for self-governance.

“Our people have always known the way. So often there is such a southern-centric perspective in so many aspects of work and life. It’s really important that this work is being led by you – the Chiefs are here, the leaders are here, the frontline professionals are here and you are pushing this work forward,” said AFN National Chief Atleo, a proud member of Vancouver Island’s Ahousaht First Nation.

“We are in the corner of change that we are leading and First Nations are directing. I’m really appreciative of the leadership we have seen in the North in so many respects. It’s only the Nations that can drive our work. The strength of our work comes from our people and places like BC are leading this change. I am very hopeful as I stand here, in my travels I see the persistence and the resilience of our people.”

Atleo covered a number of topics including First Nations updates from a national perspective, the Crown First Nations Gathering that recently took place, as well as stressing importance of the present developments in First Nations self-governance and autonomy.

A noteworthy success out of the Northern Caucus was the approval of the official Terms of Reference after numerous revisions, showing collaboration, communication and co-operation within the Northern communities.

The event included the rollout of the new ‘Navigating the Currents of Change: Managing the Transition to a New First Nations Health Governance Structure’ workbook that gives a chance for First Nations representatives to give their perspective on the coming makeup of a permanent First Nations Health Authority in BC.

The focus of the workbook is transition strategy and how to best create the structural change that will lead into a permanent solutions-based First Nations health governance organization. Questions in the workbook are asked about regional opportunities and challenges, and the corporate, non-profit, legislated or hybrid model of a permanent First Nations Health Authority. The workbook is accompanied by an information guidebook providing examples on a variety of functional health models.

“As a leader I contend that we must be the authors of our own destiny in health,” said Chief Henry Joseph from the Yekooche First Nation. “I see some of us disagreeing on small details. We should not get caught up in the small details, we need to work together to fix this problem so let’s get to it.”

After a group discussion, the Caucus members split into their Northeast, Northwest and Interior/Central sub-regional groups where further dialogue with a regional focus and needs were discussed.

“The process will be unique to us in the Northwest. It’s unique to us because that’s exactly what we want,” said Chief Willard Martin from the Laxgalts’ap Nation. “Our people base our decision making on a democratic process which we’re going through right now. I think that’s only fair to all of us that this is how we operate.”

Other comments from Caucus members stressed the need for further Elder input, participation and involvement in the process as well as engaging the youth and promoting health care careers to First Nations people.

All five provincial regions will see the workbook and after input is compiled, the results will be rolled up into regional papers that will be used to help build consensus among BC First Nations leading into Gathering Wisdom V in May 2012. A Consensus Paper will be developed that describes a collective agreement and the direction BC First Nations will take for the coming transformation into a permanent First Nations Health Authority.

“All of the preliminary work on the ground has started. The first stage of the change is a period of transition that will take two to five years. The next two years will be for the purpose of achieving the transfer, creating the interim First Nations Health Authority’s (iFNHA) preparation to receive federal programs and services and working with our partners in finalizing agreements to transfer programs and services,” said FNHC Northern representative and Gitanmaax Chief Marjorie McRae. “Once we have achieved the transfer in 2013 we will begin transforming those programs. Until then we will need to continue with the current programs and services with the anticipation of the new iFNHA taking complete control in 2013. This will give us additional time to learn more about the programs and engage fully with all BC First Nations.”

The recent tragedy in Burns Lake was repeatedly mentioned over the two day session with a handful of affected members at the meeting. Condolences and thoughts were sent out to the families and communities while fundraising initiatives pooled money for the Burns Lake Relief Fund.

Donations and more information on the Burns Lake Rotary Club/Lakes District Tragedy Relief Fund can be found online

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View as a PDF: Northern_Caucus_Yields_Positive_Results.pdf