A group of drummers stood at the front of the room. Their drums sat in their hands calmly as they brought their drumsticks down to the centres with strength and precision. The regalia of the dancers swung from side to side and the room full of people was silent. The brothers threw their voices across the room in unison. All were gathered to celebrate the two-year anniversary of Health Canada passing on federal programs and responsibilities unto the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). In attendance at the Tigh-Na-Mara conference room in Parksville, BC was with the First Nations Health Council (FNHC), First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), First Nations Health Directors Association (FNHDA), the First Nations Health Council regional representatives, and various members of Vancouver Island Health to name a few.
In In October 2013 the First Nations Health Authority was given an opportunity to fully control the well being of First Nations people in British Columbia. In order to take on such a responsibility 42 policies were adopted from Health Canada on health care provisions for First Nations. However, the First Nations Health Authority plans not to use the policies word for word because they do not want to be slowed down by bureaucracy that would in turn do more harm than good. The First Nations Health Authority’s Where We Are Today: A Mid-Year Report October 15, 2015 states, “First Nations were clear that they did not want our Health Authority to replicate Health Canada operations, but at the same time be accountable to First Nations we serve.Thus policies are being redesigned to ensure that we are are not re-creating a bureaucracy that slows down the ability to do exciting and transformative work with First Nations.” CEO Joe Gallagher mentioned in his speech on the opening day of the Vancouver Island Regional Caucus and Health Directors conference that it has been a lot of work to change these policies to suit the needs of First Nations more efficiently. Especially when something had been in motion for such a long time that making changes [to the policies] had been a difficult challenge. He said that the First Nations Health Authority is new and has come a long way and have a lot of celebrate, but there is still a long way to go.
The Vancouver Island Regional Caucus and Health Directors Conference had many presentations, cultural sharing, updates, a Ten-Year Wellness Strategy and much more stretching over 4 days from October 19-22. The events were aimed at health care provisions for First Nations people. It was an excellent time for nations of all the regions to “establish a common voice and identify health and wellness priorities.” (Regional Health and Wellness Plan March 2014). One of the main goals of the First Nations Health Authority was to bring “decision making and spending closer to home to improve responsiveness, efficiency and alignment of resources with population health needs” (RHWP 2014). One step in this direction was electing a representative of the First Nations Health Council of each region of British Columbia. Two weeks before the VI Regional Caucus Meeting Telaxten (Paul Sam) from the Red Cross was elected for the Coast Salish region.
Taking over health care provisions for First Nations of British Columbia comes with a lot bureaucratic language and policies so getting caught up in words can often be a distraction. Once in a while a person would speak up from the heart and the entire room would go silent and feel the pain or hurt coming from the persons inner depths. Something to be said about the affects from residential schools to First Nations people. Cliff Atleo’s mother said to him that there has been so much pain, but now it is time for our people to turn the page over. How do we turn over the page? He asked. All the First Nations people need to group together and work together to flip the page over, which is the pain of residential school, “and that” Cliff said, “is exactly what we’re doing here today.”
There was a man named Waylon Pahona that did a presentation with some heavy issues. He shared stories of his youth and worked chronologically until he got to the day of standing in the regional caucus meeting. To deal with the pain he absolutely devoted him self to sports and didn’t care about anything else in this world not even himself. He would focus so heavily on sports so that he could keep his mind off the pain and did not want to listen to anything the coaches had to say. Word spread around that Waylon was really talented, but was un-coachable and college and university coaches didn’t want him on their teams.
Eventually he learned that he had to look inward to see what parts of life he was missing and from there he visited a counsellor. He realised that he had been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was a major contributors to his anger and self-destructive behaviour. Through all this pain that he had in his life he wanted to do something that made him feel gratified. On his journey to health he started Healthy Active Natives, which is a program that embraces health lifestyle choices for First Nations youth. He was very inspirational with his openness and sharing. His charisma awoke the sleepy room and gave people some thought provoking ideas. In turn he left us with two inspirational quotes, “we have to be greater than what we suffer” and “being successful is being passionate.”
Congratulations to the First Nations Health Authority, First Nations Health Directors Association, First Nations Health Council and their regional representatives on their successes and best of luck with all their future endeavours and journeys to health and wellness.