Shane Gottfriedson, British Columbia Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief
(From our BC AFN Partner Shane Gottfriedson)
Let’s be clear, everyone needs to be accountable and responsible for their actions. The principle of Reciprocal Accountability has been a foundation in many First Nations communities since time immemorial. The tale of First Nations’ irresponsibility, lack of accountability and inability to manage our own affairs is founded in the ignorant and discriminatory views of First Nations peoples by some Canadians.
The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) issued a report this week. The report analyzes the success factors that enabled BC First Nations to be the first in Canada to assume control over health care. The report also recommends ways that the FNHA can strengthen its corporate governance. Importantly the report endorses the B.C. Tripartite health transfer process as a sound approach to overcoming the structural impediments which result in poorer health outcomes for First Nations.
We are emerging from a fearful place right now in this country. Ten years of a Harper government in Canada has resulted in an environment characterized by mistrust, blame and condemnation. Achieving health transfer during this period was challenging. There was a lot of static about First Nations and transparency, a lot of fear about First Nations in the driver’s seat. Our people chose this, our leadership voted for this and entrusted the FNHA with this work and the FNHA is accountable to us.
The recent human rights ruling on child welfare amplified awareness of the cost of a two-tiered system. The health gap that First Nations continue to experience is unacceptable and increasing First Nations decision-making in health is confirmed as the best way to address this. Over the past 30 years Canada’s own Indigenous Health Policy has been incrementally shifting to accommodate this common-sense approach.
This narrative promotes doubt in First Nations’ capacity for self-determination over our children, families and communities. Many First Nations are still wondering who holds the accountability for colonization, the damage of Residential Schools and outdated policies that affect our lives by alienating us from our lands and resources.
The Tripartite Health Transfer process in B.C. has been declared a best practice and a sensible path forward for better health services for First Nations people by the United Nations, respected clinicians, educators and governance partners, and our media partners regionally, nationally and internationally. This is a critical point that should not be lost among the colonial noise of First Nations perceived irresponsibility.
The foundation of the First Nations Health Governance Structure is strong and was built over the last 20-plus years by Chiefs and leaders across B.C. including some of the most respected names in BC First Nations communities such as Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Kukpi7 Wayne Christian, Wickaninnish Cliff Atleo Sr., former National Chief Shawn Atleo, Grand Chief Ed John and Grand Chief Doug Kelly. Federal and provincial supporters have included former Prime Minister Paul Martin, BC Premier Gordon Campbell and dozens of Ministers of Health from both governments including the Honourable Jane Philpott and the Honourable Terry Lake.
The First Nations Health Authority stated they welcomed the OAG audit. The OAG set out to share the good work in B.C. with other First Nations and Canadians. The report states that the FNHA is overcoming the service gaps for First Nations Peoples. Health Canada clearly states the FNHA has met its accountability requirements and has consistently provided quality and timely deliverables. The OAG audit confirms that the FNHA established an accountability and governance framework to guide operations and promote transparency and accountability, and that they are on the right path to strengthening policy in this area.
FNHA is incorporating First Nations cultural perspectives and approaches, industry best practices and procedures found in other public and private organizations to learn and grow. As a young organization they have committed to creating the best First Nations Health Governance Structure in the world. We all have an accountability to hold – if there are concerns, let’s hear them, address them and move forward.
We are making history in B.C. and it’s not always going to be easy but this work will always be worth it. The narrative of First Nations unable to manage their own affairs is a tired one we have heard for too many years. Our relationship with Canada is strong. We believe that with our new partners we can achieve great things. The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau and his team offered the opportunity for a new relationship founded on respect and we accepted his offer.
We recognize we are blazing a trail in our communities, in the Province of B.C., Canada and around the globe in creating the first First Nations Health Authority – something First Nations and all Canadians should be proud of. Our people are hopeful. We are hopeful. We will continue to guide the work in B.C. with the highest standards of accountability and transparency.
Shane Gottfriedson is the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief