On Friday, February 16, The Nation participated in a nationwide teleconference held by the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO). The conference, hosted by NAHO chairperson Dr. Judith Bartlett and executive director Richard Jock, was geared to provide aboriginal media from across the country with information, and to field any questions that the journalists might have.

Dr. Bartlett spoke first, explaining that NAHO was established in March, 2000 and began developing a structure and appointing members to the board that June. The first position filled was that of executive director-Richard Jock. A total of 15 board members were then selected from across Canada. Though there is no direct representation at present for the James Bay Cree, there are northern representatives from AFN. It is NAHO’s intention to link up with all Native groups across the country as it seeks to expand it’s understanding of aboriginal health issues at the national and local level.

The fledgling organization, armed with a five-year mandate and a $28.3 million budget (estimated annual budget of 5-7 million) courtesy of Health Canada, came about as the result of wanting to address the health needs of Native people. While NAHO must report to Health Canada, the relationship will be maintained at arm’s length. NAHO will however be closely linked with the Institute of Aboriginal People’s Health and it is hoped that this close link will ensure that the organization’s priorities are clearly reflected. There will be an ongoing process of evaluation to determine whether the program will be sustainable over a longer term.

Richard Jock outlined the key goals of the organization as follows:

-To improve and promote, through knowledge, the health of aboriginal people.

-To improve existing health programs.

-To facilitate and promote research, including areas concerning women, children, and Aboriginal people in urban areas.

-To foster the delivery of health care by improving ways to provide training and entry into the field.

-To affirm aboriginal healing practices and ensure that traditional holistic healing practices are both recognized and preserved.

Dr. Bartlett went on to emphasize that gathering and providing information, assembling solid, objective data to help in the decision making process is what the organization is focused on. NAHO is affiliated with five member organizations across Canada; the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapirisat Commission, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Native Women’s Association, and the Metis National Council. NAHO seeks to establish links and protocols with all the involved organizations through its website (NAHO.ca), national conferences, and regional gatherings to be held across the country.

For those of you expecting to see immediate results at the community level, you’ll have to be patient. NAHO is not set up as a health delivery service, but as a fact finder and policy developer. The organization maintains a long-term goal of gathering and providing information, and of collecting solid, objective data to help make informed decisions where Aboriginal health is concerned. Knowledge, rather than practice, is the key here. The organization seeks to scope out and understand what is available, how to develop new health policies, and how to contribute to positive health. “We want to know how to proceed and find facts to develop better methodology, ethics, and protocols for research,” said Dr. Bartlett. She added that NAHO wants to, “prioritize research questions based on needs, not desires.”

NAHO officially opened on February 19th. At this early stage they seek to leave the door open to feedback that will allow the organization to adapt to the dictates of incoming information. In other words, the organization is a work in progress that hopefully will be able to adapt itself to improve all aspects of Aboriginal health. Ultimately, NAHO wants to construct an overall health agenda for Aboriginal people by the end of its five-year agenda. It is hoped that the linking up of disparate groups will help in the sharing of knowledge and expertise. Much emphasis has been placed on learning from traditional Native healing practices. Alternative medicine stands to contribute the most to this program.