Message from the Dene National Chief
FIRST NATIONS NWT HEALTH FORUM:
Our People, Our Treaty, Our Health
Liidlii Kue First Nation Fort Simpson, NWT
October 28-November 01, 2013
On behalf of the Dene Nation and the Assembly of First Nations in collaboration with Health Canada, Government of the Northwest Territories and Ecology North, we would like to thank you for making the commitment to visit Liidlii Kue (Fort Simpson), NWT and take part in this very important gathering; First Nations NWT Health Forum: Our People, Our Treaty, Our Health.
We would also like to thank the Liidlii Kue First Nation and the Dehcho First Nations for hosting the event and making sure we are all safe and comfortable with our stay.
We the Dene know it as Liidlii Kue, “the place where the rivers come together”. For centuries Dene peoples gathered here each summer to meet, celebrate and trade. In the 19th century, European fur traders, explorers, Christian missionaries and others moved into the Dene homeland, with a new chapter in the area’s history. The community that would eventually become Fort Simpson originated when the North West Company built Fort of the Forks in 1803. Fort Simpson played a significant role in the story of the Hudson’s Bay Company in northern Canada. In 1821, the Hudson’s Bay and North West companies amalgamated and the Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Simpson, named after the then governor of Rupert’s Land, George Simpson. It was first selected as a trading site by the Northwest Company for its convenient location at the confluence of the Liard and Mackenzie Rivers. The site became the headquarters for the northern region of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In the 1890s, Fort Simpson participated in the rush to the Yukon, with people attempting the South Nahanni as a route to the Yukon. An RCMP detachment opened in 1913 and a hospital was built in 1916. Fort Simpson’s warm climate and fertile soils led to the community growing vegetables and raising livestock for the region as a federal initiative called the “experimental farm”. However, the farm was closed in 1968 and the gardens were neglected after the Mackenzie Highway system was created and connected the community to the south.
In keeping his word, Pope John Paul II came to Fort Simpson to visit the Dene in 1987 and told the world the Dene need to have self government with a land base, adequate resources and a viable economy. It was a crucial and defining moment in Dene history, which people still remember to this day!
HEALTH OF OUR PEOPLE
With many followed-up activities that were coordinated over the past few years, we believe it was essential for us to launch a bilateral forum regarding health concerns that were discussed at the spring Dene Leadership Meeting in Yellowknife, 2013. In the context of this health forum, we need the roles and responsibilities of the appropriate governments defined so our people understand the delivery of health in our communities.
Our agenda follows this concept, so at the end of the day it is clear who has authority when it comes to our health. We need you to assist us by going through the issues and to determine how health should be provided in the NWT.
Over the last few years there has been wide concerns regarding “FRACKING” in Denendeh. This type of exploratory oil and gas drilling is very confrontational in North America for the reasons of high usage of clean water, toxic contamination of used fluids and social impacts that this industry can portray. There are also alot of unknown questions that need to be answered. For example, there is no monitoring process in place, there is no management processes in place and GNWT does not have policies in place for this kind of development. We need to research the long term effects of fracking in the north and better understand the animal and plant habitat where the frack drilling will take place. We have passed motions regarding this issue both at the Dene National Assemblies and the Assembly of First Nations level.
We as the Dene need to come up with our own industry protocol agreements in terms of development and make sure we are part of the decision making, monitoring, management processes and clean up policies in the north. We all need to educate ourselves on this issue. Fracking IS a health issue to our people because it effects our land, our people and our way of life which is protected by our treaties and the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982.
The Dene Nation has supported the ‘Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation in Canada’ by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). We are the first Aboriginal people to support and the 131st organization to officially endorse the document. In order to make progress and to improve the health of First Nations communities across Canada, strong principles are needed. The Dene Nation strongly supports the CMA’s belief that a transformation of the health care system is critical to meet the needs of the future.
The CMA report What Makes us Sick? calls for a comprehensive strategy and associated investments by the federal government to improve the health of our people, in partnership with non-governmental organizations and Aboriginal communities. The principles were developed in 2011 by the CMA and the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) to guide the transformation of the health care system in Canada. The goal is for Canada’s public health care system to provide quality care and to be sustainable, equitable, accountable and patient-centered, with a greater emphasis on prevention. We encourage other First Nations and Aboriginal communities to endorse the principles.
It is also our role to work closely with the medical profession to address the needs of our people. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canadian physicians. Founded in 1867, the CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing more than 78,000 of Canada’s physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial medical associations and 51 national medical organizations. CMA’s mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Once again, thank you for participating. We need to hear your views and concerns as they relate to health and wellbeing of our people. As you know, as First Nations governments we are compelled to work with the federal and territorial governments to provide a good secure future for our people which includes health. Please share your experiences and comments with others in this forum and work towards the best possible solutions that bring all of us together.
Dene National Chief
AFN Regional Chief, NWT
Chief Minnie Letcher & DNC Bill Erasmus
Biography of Dene National Chief Erasmus
Bill Erasmus was born in Yellowknife in 1954. He spent much of his life and his career in his homeland of Denendeh.
He acquired a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science from the University of Alberta. Chief Erasmus’ political expertise and strong leadership skills has brought significant change and advancement to all Peoples of the NWT.
He is a life-time advocate of Aboriginal and Treaty rights and a recognized Aboriginal leader worldwide. However, he still remains committed to the Dene Nation and his homeland Denendeh.
In 1993, Chief Erasmus received a Governor General commemorative medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, in recognition of his significant contribution to compatriots, communities and to Canada. In 2005 he was the recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the accession of HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN to the throne.
In 1987 Mr. Erasmus was elected National Chief of the Dene Nation, a position he still holds today. He has also been a member of the Assembly of First Nations Executive Committee since 1987. Mr. Erasmus is Chair of the Chiefs Committee on Environment and Vice-Chair to the Finance Committee and Intergovernmental and International Relations. He has previously held positions on many of the AFN Chiefs Committees.
Chief Erasmus Chairs the Centre for Nutrition and Environment of Indigenous Peoples, an independent research facility at McGill University established by Aboriginal Peoples of the North. Mr. Erasmus has contributed to communities in the NWT throughout his professional life as a fieldworker, reporter/photographer, researcher and negotiator for various First Nations communities and organizations.
Chief Erasmus is a visionary leader, well-grounded in his roots. He is a skilled negotiator and incorporates his philosophy of connection to the land, community and Nation to resolve conflict and to be an instrument of change. His deep respect for Elders, traditional knowledge and Aboriginal rights guides his vision to a better future for Indigenous Peoples worldwide.
He strongly believes in family and is a dedicated husband and father to his wife Reanna, son Lonny, and daughter Sarah.