Thursday, November 8, 2012

Vice Chief Dutch Lerat at Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation

On my way to work each morning, I walk a long gravel road toward the Treaty Four Governance Office. Then I turn right and walk along asphalt past the All Nations Healing Hospital. Last year, in all seasons, I took pictures of these two buildings, covered in sunshine, solid against the storm clouds, surrounded by snow, glowing in the moonlight.

Vice Chief Dutch Lerat's speech below is helping me understand the truth that is right under my nose, or maybe, right along my path. Health care and governance are treaty rights.

-- Sheena

Vice Chief Dutch Lerat

Good Morning Elders, Senators, fellow Chiefs, Councillors, Executive, staff, and participants.  We are all here today to discuss the importance of Treaty Implementation.  We heard some powerful speakers yesterday.

This morning, I will focus on the importance of the implementation of our Inherent and Treaty rights to health and health care.  I would first like to acknowledge the significance of this Forum and those who have committed their time to organizing and attending this event.

We often speak about our Inherent and Treaty right to health, but often neglect to talk about the actual implementation of these rights and the steps that need to be taken.  It is known, that the Crown has an ongoing obligation to fulfill Treaties according to the spirit and intent.  

Our forefathers who entered into Treaty specifically referred to our Treaty right to health.  Our leaders knew the importance of the medicines.  The Treaty Commissioners travelled with doctors and medicine to treat the sick and provide health and health care.  The Treaty Commissioner representing the Crown committed the following, “What you have will remain intact and what we have to offer you is on top of what you already have.”

Through Treaty, the Crown is forever bound to the promises to health care and medicines.  It is recognized that “No Parliament shall do anything to lessen the worth of these guarantees.”  This is a quote from Justice Lord Denning of the Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom.

We know we have Inherent and Treaty rights to health.  There is no doubt that these rights exist.  The problem exists when the Crown unilaterally interprets these rights.  There are so many problems with the way in which the Crown has interpreted its obligations to First Nations health.  To name a few:  the Crown often offloads to the province and they have imposed programs and services designed by the either the federal government or provincial government, not by First Nations.  There is an obvious lack of consultation on how the Treaty right to health should be implemented.

There are so many barriers that our people face every day just to ACCESS health care – barriers that many other groups never have to imagine.  The Crown has made access to health care inconvenient, difficult, and in some instances unpleasant due to experiences of mistreatment and cultural insensitivity.

The medicines are not being provided to our people.  I think we can all relate to this problem.  Every day there are more medicines on the list that are no longer covered or we only get generic medicines.  This one sided interpretation to the Treaty right to health is unacceptable.

There is a lack of resources.  Our communities are not being given a chance to provide quality care to their members due to chronic underfunding and micro management.  The tools are not made available to our communities.  Our people are sick.  Many are dying from diseases such as AIDS or diabetes.  Our Elders are being denied proper care.

Our children are being taken from their families.  Our youth are falling into the cracks and becoming reliant on drugs and alcohol.  First Nations people are suffering every day.

We cannot allow the Crown to continue to break their promises and guarantees to medicine.  There is so much talk about governance and revenue sharing; but we can’t forget that in order to move forward our communities need to be healthy.  In moving ahead, we have to make certain that our communities are being provided with all the health services and care that can improve their quality of life.

The next step for us, as Leadership, is to advocate for the implementation of the Treaty right to health in a manner that recognizes our rights and way of life.  This could mean our culture, values, ways of knowing, language, and beliefs may be melded together with the modern health care in order to provide the quality of health services owed to our people.  It is time to make sure that the Treaty right to health is fulfilled according to the spirit and intent.

I truly believe that the only way in which we are going to be able to successfully implement our Treaty right to health and implement our inherent right to take responsibility for our children is to lead the implementation.  First Nations must be consulted in all stages of implementation of the Treaties.

Like Chief Wallace Fox said yesterday, we need to begin decolonizing.  One way in which we can begin to decolonize in the area of health is to go back to our traditional medicines and traditional healing.  RCAP defines traditional healing as,

“…practices designed to promote mental, physical and spiritual well-being that are based on beliefs which go back to time before the spread of western ‘scientific’ bio-medicine.  When aboriginal peoples in Canada talk about traditional healing, they include a wide range of activities, from physical cures using herbal medicines and other remedies, to the promotion of psychological and spiritual well-being using ceremony, counseling and the accumulated wisdom of Elders.”  

Essentially, decolonizing is a process of supplementing our traditional medicines and traditional healing with European medicines and health practices.  We can begin this decolonizing process by restoring the health of our communities in a way that we choose.

There is potential in Treaty-based health models.  We must take the lead in exploring different health models.  We have every right to take control over health and base a health model on our Treaties, cultures, laws, and customs.

Indigenous communities all across the world are beginning to exert control in the area of health.  This is important for us too.  The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the Indigenous right to traditional and contemporary health and health care and practices.  Our goal is to improve the lives of our people.  First Nations philosophy and world view is one of holistic health and health care; that includes spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health and health care.  In doing this we need new First Nations and Federal laws that respect and give legal effect to the implementation of the Inherent and Treaty rights to traditional and contemporary health and health care system.

The Inherent and Treaty rights to health and health care have to be implemented through a community-based and inter-tribal traditional and contemporary health and health care system.  It is not to say that we are not progressing in implementing our inherent and Treaty rights to health.  We are progressing in areas of capacity building.

The Health and Social Development Secretariat has been fulfilling the ongoing mandates of the Chiefs.  The Health and Social Development Secretariat has committed to the goals of Treaty implementation in the ongoing day-to-day work they do on behalf of the First Nation communities of Saskatchewan.  Some highlights of this work include:

·         the collection of data through the Regional Health Survey that provides each First Nation community with a snapshot of the health status of the people;

·         advocacy of legislation, for example the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act introduced by the federal government;

·         developing legislation, regulations and standards that benefit the communities and our people;

·         protecting our sacred waters – this should be a component of any legislation concerning water;

·         seeking needed levels and sustainable funding for transfer agreements;

·         the CLASP and HEY projects that provide prevention, not reaction or protection, training to community people including front line workers; and

·         the Memorandum of Understanding that has created a 10 year plan for First Nations health and well-being.

All in all, we have been progressing; however, the next steps for implementation will need to be taken.

I would like to end with a very significant statement that was made by the Minister of Health at the Crown-First Nation Gathering:  “First Nations must be a partner in the design and delivery of health programs and services FOR FIRST NATIONS, BY FIRST NATIONS.”  I agree with statement “FOR First Nations, BY First Nations” but we need to look further, beyond programs and services.  We need to look at First Nations health systems at every level including medical personnel, support services, data jurisdiction, organizational, executive and boards.  It is our time to take control over the design and delivery of health programs and services.

First Nations must be consulted at all stages and must have say in this process.  First Nations must be the drivers of this process, if it is to be for First Nations, by First Nations.  We owe it to our forefathers, our communities, our families, and our children.  We owe it to those generations to come.

Right now our Treaty relationship is unhealthy.  This is demonstrated in our communities.  Our communities have become so unhealthy that they are in some instances unrecognizable.  We must stop this unhealthiness and get our communities healthy and thriving.  Our children need to be put on our agenda.

There needs to be more commitment from both levels of government to the transition of a First Nations child welfare system.   We must learn from the past hundred years that our children are OUR children and should not be subject to a foreign welfare system.

We, as leaders, have a responsibility to our communities.

We, as leaders, must take an aggressive stand to protect our Inherent and Treaty rights to health.

We, as leaders, must ensure that our Treaty rights are being implemented to the spirit and intent that our forefathers intended.

We, as leaders, must advocate for our peoples rights to health care.

I encourage everyone here today to be mindful of our inherent rights and Treaty rights to health and health care.  For implementation, we should all consider what steps need to be taken to achieve these goals.  If we are going to succeed in moving forward, we must be clear on our position and clear on the work that must be committed to.
In conclusion, the Inherent rights to health and health care are granted by the Creator and we are born with our Inherent rights and we inherit them from generation to generation based on our traditions.  Our Treaties supplement these rights.  There is no reason for the inadequate health care that our First Nations people are being given today.

It is an honour to be here. Thank you everyone.

page 50-53 , excerpt from
Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation

Dakota Dunes Casino and Conference Center
March 29 & 30, 2012

shared as public document with permission from
Dan Bellegarde, Executive Director, Treaty Governance Office

CD of Chiefs' Forum on treaty Implementation available for $5.00
or free transcript is available
by contacting Dan Bellegarde at

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