Amid talk of governance issues, the closure of the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) by virtue of $200 million in Health Canada cuts is causing consternation among First Nations, Métis and Inuit alike, even though the main groups representing them had withdrawn support.
NAHO announced “with sadness” on its website on April 6 that it would shutter its doors on June 30 after losing its only funding source, the federal government.
Mary Simon, the president of the Inuit advocacy organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), told the Nunatsiaq News on April 10 that ITK had wanted to see NAHO restructured. At the same time, Simon told the newspaper, the loss Inuit Tuttarvingat, the NAHO branch that conducted research into Inuit issues, is a blow.
“ITK encouraged a restructuring of NAHO to better reflect a distinction-based approach sought by Inuit,” Simon told the Nunatsiaq News. “The loss of the Inuit Tuttarvingat Centre creates a serious void in Inuit health research and support to address Inuit health issues.”
NAHO now finds itself negotiating to have universities and research institutions acquire its research and assets, the group’s statement said in announcing its closure just after soliciting contributions to the next edition of its journal, scheduled for fall. It was going to be devoted solely to Inuit health and wellness.
In addition, NAHO will shut down its Facebook page and website. In addition its 30-plus staff of health-care specialists will lose their jobs.
NAHO’s assets, according to its media release, include more than 200 health reports, guides and fact sheets; rare video and audio of indigenous knowledge held by aboriginal elders; singular public databases on Métis health; 12 editions of the Journal of Aboriginal Health, and “thousands of copies of research files and holdings,” NAHO said in its statement, all part of its more than $60 million in holdings of “knowledge-based research to improve the health outcomes of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.”
Those peoples, however, had withdrawn their support in the days leading up to NAHO’s dissolution, according to Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq spokesman Steve Outhouse, who tweeted as much on April 10, according to the Nunatsiaq News. He said that a critical editorial in The Globe and Mail did not mention the withdrawal of support by the Assembly of First Nations, ITK and the Métis National Council.
"The National Aboriginal Health Organization has had repeated organizational problems," said Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, according to Postmedia News. "Health Canada worked with NAHO in an attempt to resolve these issues but, unfortunately, they were not addressed. This has led to some member organizations withdrawing their support from NAHO."
Despite the loss of support, NAHO CEO Simon Brascoupe told the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) that he was surprised to learn of the funding cut. The organization had been working out its problems, he said, and he thought they were making headway, as well as a substantial contribution to aboriginal health.
"It was a surprise,” he told the station. “We thought we were doing excellent work, and the call was a bit of a shocker to myself and the staff. We were told that the government was cutting our funding because they were trying to protect direct funding to First Nations and Inuit communities, and organizations like NAHO that do not provide direct funding were being cut."
He said that NAHO is “looking for a good home” for the research and information it has compiled over its 12 years of existence.