A formal letter of understanding was recently signed between the region’s First Nations and the Interior Health Authority (IHA).
Canim Lake Band health director Sheila Dick was one of about 100 people who participated in the signing ceremony at a two-day Interior Regional Health Caucus.
The agreement encompasses all 54 bands and seven nations within the Interior region, she says, and most were represented by a chief (or proxy) and health directors.
“It’s exciting. The time is right because we have some highly educated people at the table. We have health directors with 20 years experience, and we have people at the table who treat each other well, who are respectful of everyone.”
The commitment assures the Secwepemc and other First Nations in the region are considered and treated as equals, while jointly establishing a Regional Health and Wellness Plan, Dick explains.
“From my perspective, it’s all about equality as we sit around the table planning for the health and well being of our nations, rather than have a larger body tell us what is good for our people.
“And, we want transparency in what is happening with Interior Health. For example, we want to know where we fit in, and how we can contribute and have input to that process.”
Another important aspect surrounds how First Nations and IHA can maintain a relationship where both are accountable to one another in delivering these key health services, she adds.
“A lot of the services IHA provides are for the citizens of B.C., but this is to prove to us that our people are going to get the same services as everyone else.”
Dick explains there is federal funding for health services on the reserves, but the provincial authority takes over for off-reserve treatment, such as at hospitals.
“There is this invisible boundary between on-reserve and off-reserve First Nations. We end up sort of in a limbo.
“There are services provided through the province that sometimes don’t benefit the First Nations who are in the communities on reserves.”
A five-year health plan was put together a few years ago and sent out to the Secwepemc people with “no real consultation” with its leaders and health directors, she notes.
“Basically, what we are asking is: ‘let us sit down with you at the table’. Because there are so many well educated leaders, health directors – people who understand. But quite often, we are left out of the picture.
“How can people who don’t come to rural and remote communities know what is good for us?”
A Tripartite Framework Agreement was signed in the province last year with the federal and provincial governments for First Nations to take over the operations of Health Canada. A part of this resolution was to have First Nation leaders enter into a relationship with the regional Health Authorities by developing a Partnership Accord.
These accords define how four pillars hold equal responsibility and accountability for First Nations health care in British Columbia between Canada, B.C., the FNHA, the First Nation Health Directors Association and Health Canada, Dick notes.
She says it makes First Nations an equal player in planning aspects, such as how research on health-care outcomes for its people is performed, defined and measured, and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of each party.
“In the end, Interior Nations and IHA will jointly establish a Regional Health and Wellness Plan that is defined by the Nations.”
Dick explains there is now a regional Letter of Understanding being developed between the Secwepemc Nation and IHA that will build on the Partnership Accord’s mandate to work together, which defines and delineates the responsibilities of each.
For First Nations, she adds, health planning is propelled by the constant reminder of those not yet born.
“Always ‘driving the canoe’ is our vision for our children.”