Aboriginal Health Services Decimated by Federal Cuts


More indigenous health programs have come under the budget axe, and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has come under fire.

Just a few weeks ago Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said the 2012 budget left “room for hope” although it wasn’t everything that was hoped for. He noted that the ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) was getting cut by 2.7 percent in a climate that had cuts going as high as 10 percent.

Then came the axe from an entirely different source: Health Canada’s budget is being slashed by $200 million, along with the Public Health Agency of Canada, and with them a host of aboriginal programs. First to fall was the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO), which will shut down in June after losing all its funding. Although the AFN and other groups had pulled support for the group due to governance problems, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada is expressing concern over what will become of the knowledge and information collected over NAHO’s 10 years of operation, and how such resources will be collected and compiled in future.

Now on the heels of the NAHO cuts are the demise of the health programs of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), which is losing all of its health funding, and the health programs of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), which will lose $1.5 million annually for the next two years, a 40 percent cut to its health budget.

The Métis National Council (MNC) is also losing out, as is the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. In addition, Health Canada’s funding to the AFN has been slashed, and the country’s largest aboriginal organization has had to lay off staff.

It’s a hard pill to swallow for aboriginals, since Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is herself aboriginal, an Inuk and the Conservative MP representing Nunavut. Officials at ITK felt especially betrayed.

“Inuit health statistics are several times higher than average Canadian data,” ITK President Mary Simon said in a statement, adding that the cuts would have direct, negative effects on Inuit health. “Our suicide rate is 11 times higher. Tuberculosis rates are 174 times higher. Infant mortality rates are three times the national average. Inuit life expectancy is 15 years less than the average Canadian, and continues to widen. These shameful statistics speak for themselves.”

Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada is also losing most of its funding and will have to eliminate its health programming, the group said. With $730,000 of its $800,000 annual funding cut, the group that coordinates programs on HIV education, sexual health, fetal alcohol syndrome, injury prevention and hepatitis C will cease those endeavors this year.

"Health and wellness is more than operating nursing stations and health centers in our communities," Pauktuutit president Elisapee Sheutiapik said in a statement. "The loss of these resources will severely limit our ability to work on these issues."

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons slammed the government’s decision to essentially close NAHO, calling for an equivalent body without the governance issues to continue playing the role of the soon-to-be-defunct organization.

“The state of aboriginal health is a national embarrassment and leadership is needed now more than ever,” said Dr. Thomas Dignan, chair of the Royal College’s Aboriginal Health Advisory Committee, in a statement. “Organizational struggles aside, NAHO played an important role in advancing aboriginal health research.”

The logic, according to Health Canada spokesman Steve Outhouse, is to cut funding to groups that do not provide “primary front-line health care services,” he told CBC News. Together the First Nation and Inuit Health department take up $2.2 billion of Health Canada’s budget, Outhouse said, which is two-thirds of the ministry’s annual budget.

When questioned by Liberal Member of Parliament Carolyn Bennett about the cuts, Aglukkaq pointed out that in addition to preserving those front-line services, “we are funding $30 million annually for aboriginal health research and last year we invested $2.2 million in First Nations and Inuit health programs,” according to APTN.