Aboriginals in the Val-d’Or area will now have the opportunity to get a leg up when it comes to starting out healthier lives as the city’s Native Friendship Centre (VDNFC) has just opened a new clinic.

Dubbed the Minowe Clinic, which in Algonquin means “being healthy,” the facility, located within the Friendship Centre, is a joint venture between the Centre de santé et de services sociaux de la Vallée-de-l’Or, the Centre jeunesse de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue and the VDNFC.

A pilot project at the moment, the clinic will offer services to children from 0-5 years old, pregnant women and their families, through a team made up of a nurse and a social worker.

According to the VDNFC’s Executive Director Edith Cloutier, the clinic has been a long time coming. The funding for the project was originally announced as part of a commitment made by former Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2005. At the time he had gotten the premiers from every province and territory to make a contribution to improving the health of Aboriginals across Canada and made $700 million available for such projects over a five-year period.

By December 1, 2008, the VDNFC was finally able to hire a coordinator to examine how Aboriginals within Val-d’Or could get better access to health and social services. Though Aboriginals within the community would make use of the provincial healthcare system, through research it became evident that there was a gap when it came to using these services. In many instances, the Aboriginal people in Val-d’Or were only accessing medical care through the emergency room when a health problem had reached the crisis stage instead of going to clinics for treatment earlier on.

According to Cloutier, gaps were also evident within the system when it came to Val-d’Or’s Aboriginal population and Youth Protection. So the VDNFC decided to look at integrating services in this area through its clinic.

This was extremely important because, as Cloutier explained, though Aboriginals only represent 6.2% of the population of Val-d’Or, they account for 25% of all open files within the Youth Protection system.

“We decided that we could not go on doing this. We cannot have our children taken, we need to keep them in a culturally appropriate environment and protect the children who need protection. So we added them as a third partner, decided that this was not just a health project but one that included health and social services,” said Cloutier.

The new clinic will not only offer medical support and referrals to women during and after their pregnancies but also be there to help parents facing challenges with youth protection. By having a clinic that is there to help parents and children in the first phases of life, the perspective is that the clinic can work preventatively with Aboriginal people so that problems can be addressed before they become exacerbated.

The clinic wants to offer these services in a culturally appropriate environment that is in line with Aboriginal values and traditions.

According to Cloutier, the pilot project has funding until March 31, after which the VDNFC will be looking for additional funding to keep it running. The VDNFC is currently seeking a grant of $225,000 to keep the clinic’s doors open.

Should the clinic prove to be effective in bringing health and social services closer to the people who need it most, Cloutier said they would like to expand the clinic’s services by offering consultations by medical doctors. However, this would only happen in a second or third phase of the project; right now the clinic’s focus is on getting a working model up and running.

“Hopefully this model of clinic will be seen as a socially innovative initiative for all of society, not just for First Nations because we really do have gaps when it comes to healthcare. We are part of this society and if we provide services that are closer to the needs and the realities of people, all of society wins because we will have fewer people going to emergency rooms with accentuated health problems,” said Cloutier.