The First Nations Health Authority has officially taken over health care responsibilities for B.C.’s native peoples, Health Minister Terry Lake announced Monday.
And that’s good news for a demographic that has long fallen through the cracks of the health-care system, said Tk’emlups Indian Band Chief Shane Gottfriedson.
“One of the things I’ve seen as a chief is we have many health-related issues for our people in relationship to diabetes, mental illness, addictions issues,” he said. “You can see a transformative change in governance models and leadership (can lead to) better outcomes.”
The new model includes three partners — the federal, provincial and First Nations governments — for a “more holistic approach towards task managing and doing our own health-care program,” said Gottfriedson.
First Nations leaders celebrated the landmark health-care accord with the provincial and federal governments at a ceremony in Vancouver on Monday.
The agreement — the first of its kind in Canada — allows B.C. aboriginal bands to incorporate cultural and traditional knowledge into health care programs and services including community programs and addictions treatment.
“We have a strong belief in our ties to the land and that also includes traditional medicines and herbs and roots,” said Gottfriedson. “We look after the land then the land will look after us in a healthy way.”
The First Nations health authority now has control over programs and services for indigenous residents previously delivered by Health Canada.
On July 2, the organization assumed responsibility for Health Canada's First Nations MSP payments and became a MSP group administrator.
Chief Doug Kelly, the chairman of B.C.’s First Nations Health Authority, said the agreement was signed two years ago and the transfer took effect at the beginning of the month.
Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose said the change was driven by aboriginal leaders and marks the beginning of a new era for B.C. First Nations.
It will work closely with other health authorities, said Gottfriedson.
“Interior Health will play a big role in . . . delivery of health care services for our people. We can’t do this on our own. I still see the important relationship with Interior Health to provide the services that benefit our people within the City of Kamloops.”
The First Nations Health Authority doesn’t have a Kamloops office, said Gottfriedson, but he has hope.
“Most definitely we’d jump at the opportunity to have the (First Nations) Health Authority as a big part of our community.”