Health summit looks out how Western, traditional medicines can work together
- NC Raine | April 19, 2017
In effort to honour the constitutionally protected Treaty Right to health, leaders and health experts from across Saskatchewan gathered at the First Nations Health Summit, taking place in Saskatoon from April 11-13th.
Critical issues such as mental health, the opioid crisis, HIV/AIDS, culturally responsive models to health care, health funding, and First Nations health governance were discussed. The theme of the summit, according to Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Vice Chief Heather Bear, is expressing commitment to work with communities to address these many issues that exist within a spirt of “honouring our Treaty Right to Health.”
“This is very important work, politically, spiritually, emotionally,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron at the Health Summit. “We are all working for one common goal: the future of the little ones. The ones that are coming up behind us.
“Combining traditional methods with contemporary methods – that's what we have to do,” he added.
Part of the conference included a presentation by Alvin Baptiste, uncle of Colten Boushie, who at 22, was fatally shot last August near Biggar. The tragedy uncovered many of the systemic issues that still face minorities today. Boushie's family was also honoured by delegates.
The Treaty Right to health protects inherit rights to traditions, customs, and practices, including a traditional health system. To date, First Nations hold the Canadian government responsible to uphold the Treaty and be fully responsible for the cost of health care.
“We have two options: self-determination and self-determination,” said Senator Sol Sanderson.
“What's wrong with developing and implementing a Federal First Nation health support and social development accord? An accord that would spell out how we move ahead with implementation of the traditional-contemporary health system,” said Sanderson.
Presenters also included Dr. James Makokis from Saddle Lake Cree Nation, who works to integrate Cree medicines into health care practices; Dianne Lafond, Director of Health at Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, where their success in dealing with the HIV epidemic has caught worldwide attention; and Ryan Meili, who is both a doctor and NDP MLA for Saskatoon Meewasin.
Meili is also involved with the initiative Upstream, which is a movement to create a healthy society through evidenced-based, people centred ideas, reframing social discourse around social determinants of health in order to build a healthier society.
“We talk in medicine and health about this concept of the social determinants of health (...) which is that it's not doctors and hospitals that make a difference in whether you'll be healthy, but if you've got enough money, if you have a job, if you're able to go far in school, whether you have family and friends around you, whether you have an in-tact relationship with your culture and community,” said Meili.
Meili says that the factors are often determined by political decisions made at the local, provincial, and federal levels. He criticized decisions in the recent provincial budget for making it more difficult for some people to access healthcare, such as the termination of the STC.
“Health is the most important thing. Health is the best measure – if our health is good, that means everything else is good,” said Meili.
“If our health is bad, it doesn't matter what happens with the economy or any other part of society. We're not doing it right. We're not succeeding when it should be our most important goal. And understanding that they way to achieve that goal is the social determinants of health.”