The 2,000 citizens of Grand Rapids, Man. only have access to a doctor one day per month, and have to travel two and a half hours down the highway to get to a hospital, according to Ovide Mercredi, the chief of the mostly-aboriginal community.
But Mercredi, who visited Greater Sudbury last week to participate in a strategic planning session put on by the Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre, said he believes this shouldn’t be the case for his neighbours and other aboriginals in the country.
Even in a time of “scarcity,” with governments looking to reduce deficits, he sees the potential for aboriginal and non-aboriginals to work together and improve health services for aboriginals.
“We can combine our resources, skills and knowledge with other communities to meet as many of the needs as we can meet, given the limits of the resources we have,” Mercredi, who served as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations from 1991-1997, said.
For example, Mercredi pointed out the use of the Ontario Telemedicine Network in remote aboriginal communities in northern Ontario.
“If we can’t get the doctors, the next best thing is to get them there on TV,” he said, speaking at a reception at the Lake House Restaurant for supporters of the Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre, April 26.
“It’s better than not having a doctor assess your condition.”
Aboriginal communities should also negotiate with industry operating in their territory to gain enough money to provide adequate health services, he said.
In the case of his community, Mercredi said he’s negotiating with the hydro company in Manitoba, which flooded many acres of his peoples’ traditional land 40 years ago.
Mercredi said he’s in the midst of trying to bring a $10-million health facility to his community, complete with doctors on staff one week out of every month, and dialysis and x-ray machines.
Grand Rapids, like many other remote aboriginal communities, has issues with diabetes and drug addiction, and sorely needs quality health care services, Mercredi said.
Angela Recollet, executive director of the Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre, a facility which provides culturally-based health care to aboriginal people living in Greater Sudbury, said Mercredi was invited to participate in the health centre’s strategic planning exercise because of his leadership experience.
On April 27, close to 100 stakeholders participated in workshops to plan for the future of Shkagamik-Kwe.
Recollet said she agrees with Mercredi that aboriginal people need to partner with surrounding communities to improve their health.
For example, Recollet said aboriginal health access centres, such as her organization, currently receive $1.5 million less in government funding per year than community health centres, such as Centre de Santé Communautaire du Grand Sudbury.
The two types of organizations provide similar services, although aboriginal health access centres also provide traditional aboriginal healing.
The disparity in funding exists because aboriginal health access centres were started under the Ministry of Community and Social Services, whereas community health centres are under the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, she said. As of April 1, aboriginal health access centres are run by the health ministry.
Recollet said the aboriginal population in Greater Sudbury is growing, just as it is across Canada. Shkagamik-Kwe, which opened 10 years ago, has outgrown its Applegrove Street location, she said.
Patrick Madahbee, grand council chief of the Anishnabek nation, the organization representing many aboriginal communities across Ontario, said he thinks it’s great the aboriginal health centre is planning for its future.
“I think the planning and long-range strategic objectives that they’re trying to work on is going to improve health service delivery,” he said.
“I think one of the key things is to make their organization relevant to the needs of their community. In order to do so, they’re reaching out to create relationships with the city and First Nations organizations, but more importantly, with citizens themselves to to find out what their needs are.”