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The Path To Healing:
Reviewed by Valerie Alia
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples has been marked by controversy and one defection (Commissioner Allan Blakeney). Although it is true that no commission could fully address all of the problems, it is important to recognize the extent of dissatisfaction with this commission in Aboriginal communities across Canada in assessing this and other Commission materials.
The Path to Healing contains a scattering of useful information, especially concerning community programs and projects, and an abundance of platitudes and repetitions of information long known and previously documented. (A quiet admission is found on page six of the criticisms which have been leveled at both the health care system and the Commission's status quo approach to the issues.)
Like the Commission as a whole, the health care Roundtable has ignored the crutial role played by Aboriginal communications-in this case, in promoting and maintaining community health. The extremity of funding cutbacks over the past several years has left Aboriginal radio struggling to survive, the fledgling Television Northern Canada (TVNC) afraid for its life, training programs canceled or threatened, and Aboriginal magazines and newspapers dead or in serious trouble. It is shocking that the commission has spent virtually none of its time or funding on this issue, which is inseparable from other aspects of mental and physical well-being.
The Path to Healing may be helpful to those seeking an introduction to (but not a comprehensive overview of) health care ,practitioners and prototype programs. In his introduction Louis T. Montour cites the proliferation of reports over the past 20 years and asks "Why must so many studies be undertaken and what is preventing the implementation of their recommendations?" Sadly, the new report he introduces does little to further the already extensive literature or to develop strategies for implementation.
The top-heavy model of "expert" testimony and token participation of elders (four out of 97 participants) perpetuates the old problems. Consumers of health care are virtually absent and there's very little focus on alcohol and drug abuse. Even where proactive measures are discussed, few strategies for action are offered. Fetal alcohol syndrome is raised fleetingly, without addressing some of the important and sometimes controversial community-based initiatives which are planned or in place to deal with it. Maternal and child health get too little attention.
Among the more useful sections:
The material on community social and health initiatives ranges from vague to detailed. The submission by Priscilla George and Barbara Nahwegahbow, president and executive director, respectively, of Anishnawbe Health in Toronto, calls for equal treatment for urban people. George and Nahwegahbow say Aboriginal people in Canadian cities have been slighted not only by recent governments. "Historically, those of us who make our homes in urban areas are forgotten in political negotiations. We sometimes feel our rights get sold out to gain concessions for our brothers and sisters on-reserve."
In his discussion paper, W.J. Mussell falls into the same pattern he criticizes, of setting out negatives. He fails to deliver the plan he promises, for "radical restructuring". Harriet V. Kuhnleins's keynote address on Global Nutrition and the Holistic Environment of Indigenous Peoples provides important (if not new) information. Kuhnlein can be reached at the Centre for Nutrition and the Environment of Indigenous Peoples at McGill University.
I see little to indicate the Commission has gone beyond the damage-control mentality that has characterized so much of government health care policy. Also missing is a sense that while Aboriginal peoples are in need of improved services, they have much to teach others about how to approach wellness and health care.
Reference to the Yukon is entirely missing from the Roundtable
report. Information about First Nations health issues and programs
in the Yukon can be obtained from: The Council for Yukon Indians,
Whitehorse; Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, Whitehorse; Women's
Directorate, Government of the Yukon, Whitehorse and from Health
and Social Services, Policy and Administration Branch, H-1, P.O.
Box 2703, Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 2C6.
Published in Sources 33, Winter 1993/1994