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First Nation leaders criticize UCP government for lack of consultation on AHS restructuring
“Any move toward privatization will endanger First Nations communities already struggling with issues of poverty, chronic underfunding and lack of accessibility of health services."
Leaders from Indigenous communities in Alberta are criticizing the Alberta government’s recently announced health-care reforms for being decided without Indigenous input.
On Nov. 8, Premier Danielle Smith and Minister of Health Adriana LaGrange announced that Alberta Health Services, the arms-length organization that delivers health care across the entire province, will be divided into four separate agencies over the next year.
The agencies will focus on primary care, acute care, continuing care, and mental health and addictions, respectively.
In spring-2024, the continuing care and mental health and addictions agencies will be formed, with primary and acute care coming in the fall.
A Nov. 15 statement from the Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations says “these system-wide changes were developed without our participation or knowledge.”
“This lack of consultation is troubling when responsibilities for issues that impact Indigenous Peoples and communities in the highest proportion – like mental health and addictions – are being shifted,” the statement added.
“Immediate action is needed, not reorganization.”
In July, Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations Grand Chief Leonard Standingontheroad officially declared the opioid poisoning crisis a public health emergency.
The confederacy statement notes that the restructuring of AHS poses a “dangerous disruption” to the health-care system, which it warns will have “fatal outcomes” in the midst of a public health emergency.
The NDP Official Opposition and labour leaders have expressed concern that dismantling AHS represents a step towards increased health-care privatization — a concern shared by the confederacy.
Documents revealed by NDP leader Rachel Notley the day prior to the government’s announcement outlines plans to sell off publicly owned continuing care operators CapitalCare and Carewest.
While Premier Smith said in the Legislature that she is “100 per cent committed” to the plans outlined in the documents, Minister LaGrange said the government has “absolutely no plan to privatize health care.”
“Any move toward privatization will endanger First Nations communities already struggling with issues of poverty, chronic underfunding and lack of accessibility of health services,” the Treaty No. 6 confederacy statement said, emphasizing that the “medicine chest clause” of Treaty No. 6 guarantees signatories the right to health care.
Any positive solution to the issues plaguing health care in Alberta, the statement concluded, “must include finding Indigenous-led solutions at the local level.”
Sheila North, a candidate for Assembly of First Nations national chief from Bunibonibee Cree Nation in Manitoba, echoed these concerns on X (formerly known as Twitter).
“Alberta’s plan to overhaul health care systems should alarm everyone,” North wrote, adding that Smith “should know by now that as First Nations there should be Nothing About Us Without Us!”
The Alberta government has said it will establish an Indigenous health advisory council, alongside the restructuring of 12 regional advisory councils already in existence, but details have been scarce. It’s unclear what will become of the AHS Indigenous Wellness Core.
NDP MLA Brooks Arcand-Paul, a lawyer from Alexander First Nation, asked Premier Smith in the Legislature on Nov. 9 which nations she consulted while developing her health-care plans.
In response, Minister LaGrange said that “we have been actively engaging with First Nations across the province.”
She pointed to the province’s 14-member Indigenous health advisory panel established in October 2022. Its final report was released last month, with 22 recommendations, none of which call for AHS to be dismantled.
Arcand-Paul noted a similarity between the premier’s lack of consultation with Indigenous Peoples on AHS’s restructuring to her Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act.
“[Smith] has demonstrated in the short time she’s been in this role that she does not understand her legal obligations,” Arcand-Paul said in the Legislature.
LaGrange said the government is providing $20 million “to fund the Indigenous communities to design and deliver innovative primary health-care services and projects,” in addition to hiring an Indigenous patients complaints investigator and a roster of Elders “to actually help Indigenous people through the delivery of health care.”
Originally published in Alberta Native News