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Immovable NAHO suffers the government axe
David Chartrand, vice-president of the Métis National Council, said the federal government is finally listening to the concerns of the three major national Aboriginal organizations in cutting all funding to the National Aboriginal Health Organization.
In the 2012 federal budget, NAHO lost its full funding of $4.4 million.
The mandate of the organization, which was officially incorporated in March 2000, was to advance the health of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. However, according to a letter dated Nov. 28, 2011 and sent to Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, that mandate was not being worked on effectively.
“It is clear that the only viable option for advancing First Nations, Inuit and Métis health is to wind-down NAHO and to work with us to create three legal entities that can be developed as separate arms-length centres of excellence that are result based and accountable to the respective peoples,” states the letter signed by the heads of the MNC, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Assembly of First Nations.
The letter is a follow-up to two resolutions passed by the AFN at the Special Chiefs Assembly both in 2009 and 2010. The earlier resolution called for the AFN to “no longer support or participate in NAHO activities,” while the second resolution resolved that the AFN “no longer participate as a member organization in NAHO.”
NAHO’s Web site confirms that the AFN is no longer a member organization, although ITK and MNC remain. The other two member organizations are the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
The MNC stated in a news release following the withdrawal of NAHO funding that it had been involved in “good faith in a governance review process intended to address the issues that have plagued NAHO since its inception over a decade ago. It became clear that the necessary reform to NAHO would not be possible from within.”
Aglukkaq said in a statement that “governance issues” were a concern and that “Health Canada worked with NAHO in an attempt to resolve these issues but, unfortunately, they were not addressed.”
Chartrand said the MNC had concerns about the pan-Aboriginal approach, believing there was no one way to measure outcomes because of the vast differences in infrastructure, resources, services and population between the Métis, Inuit and First Nations peoples.
According to Chartrand, NAHO imploded with a structure that refused to be accountable to the people that the board members represented.
“NAHO became an island upon itself … and it failed to be accountable back to who it was supposed to be accountable to. It caused some long-term struggles and challenges for us,” said Chartrand.
He added that NAHO’s attitude is reflected in the organization’s attempt right now to partner with academic institutions to house its research material instead of approaching MNC, ITK, or the AFN to see if they want to archive their respective materials to build on in the future.
Chartrand said that the Métis face a greater challenge than their First Nation and Inuit counterparts when it comes to the federal government addressing their health issues. He said Health Canada holds the position that the department’s mandate is only to First Nation and Inuit.
“The Métis have always been left out and that has been a struggle for our people for generations now,” said Chartrand, who challenges the minister to step up and deal with Métis-specific health issues and research and commit some of the $4.4 million to that end.
Sandra Wright, manager with the Coalition on Community Safety, Health and Well-Being, said she was not aware of any internal political struggles within NAHO while her organization worked with NAHO to plan an upcoming conference on the resiliency of Aboriginal youth.
“We’re going to miss their expertise, their research, and the knowledge they have,” said Wright. “The problem we may have (when NAHO closes) is having to go to a non-Aboriginal source. It’s helpful to have an Aboriginal approach to wellness issues, especially when you’re talking about traditional medicine.”
“The government is committed to ensuring taxpayers’ dollars are spent effectively and will continue to provide core health services to Aboriginals,” said Stéphane Shank, senior advisor, media relations with Health Canada.
The National Aboriginal Health Organization did not respond to repeated calls from Windspeaker for comment.
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