First Nations in British Columbia have taken the next step toward health-care autonomy with the signing of a groundbreaking agreement to oversee their own health care services, rather than relying on the federal government.
First Nations, federal and provincial officials signed the agreement at a ceremony in Squamish Territory in North Vancouver on October 13.
“We will be the first in Canada to take over province-wide health service delivery from the federal government,” said Grand Chief Doug Kelly. “We will work closely with the provincial health system to enable it to better meet First Nations health needs and priorities.”
Federal health minister Leona Aglukkaq called the signing “an important and historic milestone” for the government, British Columbia First Nations and the province.
“This will streamline administration, encourage the integration of the federally and provincially funded health services and allow health-care decisions to be made closer to home,” she said at the signing. “I am so proud that our hard work has finally paid off.”
Under the agreement, the British Columbia First Nations Health Society (FNHS) will assume responsibility over the next two years for aboriginal health care and planning, which is currently administered by the federal government. It has been in the works since 2005.
The agency will deliver on-reserve health programs such as maternal and child health initiatives, mental-health and addiction services, as well as primary care. It will also incorporate First Nations’ cultural knowledge, beliefs, values and models of healing into the design and delivery of health programs.
The change will happen gradually, with the federal government transferring $380 million a year to the new agency over the next two years, the amount it spends annually on aboriginal health care in British Columbia. The amount isn’t fixed, and will fluctuate depending on demographic and cost factors. The provincial government is providing $83.5 million as part of its commitments under the framework agreement. In addition the federal government is giving $17 million to British Columbia First Nations to help with the transfer of services.
In June, 167 British Columbia chiefs at a First Nations Health Council meeting voted 146–21 in favor of a resolution to take over health-care-service delivery from the federal government. Thursday’s signing bore the fruits of that labor.
“This agreement is the first of its kind in Canada and advances British Columbia’s new relationship commitments to close the gaps, including health, that separate First Nations people from other British Columbians,” British Columbia Health Minister Michael de Jong said at the signing.
“We are doing it first,” de Jong said. “The rest of the country is watching this longhouse today, and they are aware of what is taking place here.”
Here’s a glimpse of the signing ceremony.