By Christian Quequish
Aboriginal chiefs, social workers and doctors are meeting in downtown Toronto this week for their annual health forum, looking at prescription drug abuse, data management, diabetes and other public health issues.
The event at a downtown hotel is hosted by Chiefs of Ontario and runs from Tuesday to Thursday. About 200 people from all over Ontario are in attendance.
“Really, it’s a forum for networking of health providers, frontline workers, leadership and basically all people that want to know about First Nations health on reserves,” Tracy Antone, health coordinator for Chiefs of Ontario, told Humber News.
There will be a number of presentations from people who operate community-based projects to address prescription drug abuse, which is the highlight of the meeting, Antone said.
“What’s really being developed and showcased is a process for First Nations to do some community-based work to address prescription drug abuse,” she said, adding the goal is to “encourage and develop the knowledge and know-how of how to run a program in a community.”
Aside from input from frontline workers, Chiefs of Ontario has a First Nation youth council, which consists of young people from each First Nation community who meet and discuss priority areas that need to be addressed.
Addictions medicine physician Dr. Sharon Cirone, who attended the event, said that there are about seven to eight Aboriginal communities that have a suboxone program – a program that helps people with addictions.
The program is “supported by physicians from the south who have addictions training,” and that there are more communities that need this treatment, so there is a demand for the service, Cirone said.
“I can only speak as an outsider coming into the community, and in my short visits there – I’ve been to North Caribou Lake five times already for these week long inductions, and there’s no question that you see improvements in the community,” Cirone said. “The community as a whole is improving as individual families improves.”
Cirone said the people in this community are improving their health, getting back to work, getting their children back in their own homes and improving relationships with partners and extended family.
Regional Chief of Ontario and member of Assembly of First Nations Stan Beardy said he helped develop the detox concepts during his days as Grand Chief of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, a First Nations political organization that served as an advocate for 49 First Nations communities in the north.
“I’m the regional chief of Ontario, part of my mandate is the well-being of all First Nations people in Ontario. This includes health, and the programs that [First Nations] need to access as tools to address the challenges on and off reserves,” Beardy said.
As AFN regional chief, Beardy has the health portfolio for all of Canada, and is working to see where the gaps are so he can address them in policy development and legislative changes.