The Cree Health Board has just hit the big 3-0 and to celebrate it held a big bash in Chisasibi April 19-20 to commemorate three decades of accomplishments, commitment and diligent service and to honour the individuals who made it possible.
Diane Reid, chairperson for the CHBand a seven-year veteran, said, “Everyone was touched by the commitment and dedication of these people,” recalling the gala celebration.
Though the CHB was created in 1978, Reid explains, “it stemmed from the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975. Section 14 was the segment that related to health and social services for the Cree Nation so that marked ‘the birth’
of the (CHB) as a regional council.
“Before then you had the health services under the National Health and Welfare (act) under Northern Affairs. Back in 1975, the communities of Wemindji and Waskaganish had full nursing stations and Eastmain, Fort George and Chisasibi were the only communities that had health centres. We didn’t have any permanent doctors in the communities only at the Fort George hospital,” she said.
“In the fall of 1977, two years after the signing of the James Bay agreement, the Quebec government introduced Bill 10, which is the act that set in place the S-5 act, which governs the social services for the C ree and the Inuit. The original law governed the health and social services for northern Quebec back then and it was created on April 20, 1978,” said Reid.
With that in mind, commemorating the CHB’s inception on the exact date that it began 30 years ago was ideal.
“What is interesting about the way our health and social services are set up is that we not only have a regional council but we also have the integration of services under council boards. This is not the case in many of the regions. They will have separate institutional boards for hospitals, rehab centres and other medical centres whereas the C ree have it all under one regional council.
“We have the regional hospital in Chisasibi, which has two group homes for youth in difficulty – one in Chisasibi and one in Mistissini – and we have a regional re-adaptation centre for youth in Mistissini. Then we have nine clinics in the communities and the hospital in Chisasibi that we oversee. We also have nine new multi-services day centres that serve the elderly and the physically and mentally challenged clientele. Those are the establishments that the CBH oversees in the nine communities.
“Under the (CHB) we also have patient-service centres outside of the region. There’s one in the Chibougamau hospital, one in the Val d’Or hospital and one in Montreal for the coordination of services for people who are referred outside the community for specialized care,” said Reid, detailing the various facilities that comprise the CHB.
At the moment the CHB is awaiting approval for a new “extended services” centre in Mistissini that would feature services such as radiology, dialysis and a birthing centre. Though not a full-fledged hospital, the care centre would feature eight new patient beds. The final word on the project has to come directly from the Quebec government.
According to Reid, the CHB was given the go-ahead to hire the professionals required for the design aspects of the new facility, but the project has been on hold as there was a moratorium on funding for hospitals because of the mega-hospital projects in Montreal. “This is why we couldn’t access any additional resources for our hospital,” she said.
The birthing centre would also be part of a new pilot project, the first of its kind in the Cree communities. At the moment, said Reid, “we are still looking for the resources required. We have the operational and human resources for the birthing centre under the extended services of the Mistissini clinic but now we have to secure a building for it. Now the question is whether the ministry will accept the birthing centre as part of the extended services of the Mistissini health centre.
“We have approached the community of Mistissini to see if it would provide a facility that we could rent. It’s much easier to rent a facility under the ministerial criteria than buy a whole new building because they don’t have the funds to build new birthing centres,” she said.
Due to the prevalence of gestational diabetes in the communities, it is common practice for many women to be flown out a month prior to giving birth due to the high-risk nature of these pregnancies. “This would most likely still be the practice in the case of high-risk pregnancies however the birthing centre could still set precedents.
“I am hoping that the pilot project for Mistissini will come through so that we can use it as a base for a resource centre for birthing. And, at the same time, it could be part of a training centre for other communities that want to set up their own birthing centres,” said Reid.
The 30th anniversary event featured two days of speeches, power-point presentations, dancing, traditional drumming and an awards ceremony to celebrate those who had devoted decades of service to the health of the Cree Nation. Square dancing was naturally part of the event. “It’s a ritual within the Cree communities,” said Reid. “Every general assembly within the Cree Nation ends with a feast and square dancing.”
The event also featured hip-hop dancing put on by the James Bay Eeyou School of Hip-hop dancing. But in terms of enjoyment, Reid said, nothing could overshadow traditional Cree entertainment. “There were youth drummers from Chisasibi at the opening and the closing of the actual 30th anniversary on Sunday. These young people have such a powerful presence with their singing and everybody felt that. They were amazing,” said Reid.
As for the rest of the celebration and why this gathering really happened, said Reid, “The Crees have a holistic approach to dealing with things and the way they organized it was to recognize the years of service by the employees. This was the highlight for me. It was the celebration of the 30 years.
“In total there were about 200-250 people at the event. We had people from the local and regional services, we had guests from the outside who worked to support us, and officials from the Ministry. We also had representatives from Eeyou Nation organizations like the Grand Council, Air Creebec, Creeco, the Board of Compensation and the community leadership. It was an overview of the leadership as we all work in partnership.
“Air Creebec provided a gift in recognition of the 30th anniversary of the Health Board and we were jokingly saying that we’re the biggest client of Air Creebec, providing patient services.”
Despite the flurry of activities that went on at the CHB’s bash, what stood out most for Reid was the unbelievable commitment and devotion that some have contributed over the years. “What touched my heart the most were these people who have worked there for over 30 years. You have to understand that the Health Board is only 30 years old, so these are people who worked on Fort George Island at the hospital and they became the first employees of the Health Board when they were transferred in 1977. That is what touched me the most, the number of years of service that some of these individuals put in.”
The guest speaker for the event was Louise Montreuil from the Ministere de la Sante et des Services sociaux. “She was the principal negotiator for the Ministry at the time of these negotiations that culminated with the health agreement in 2005. She is also the representative of First Nations Health and Social Services in the province of Quebec. So, she was the guest speaker on behalf of Health Minister Philippe Couillard. We had extended an invitation to Couillard but he had a prior commitment. And so, we had Louise come in,” said Reid.
Reid herself gave the closing speech at the two-day event and part of her speech was intended to remind the public that she has to run in an election to hold her position sometime this summer. “It was really just to announce that my term will be done in August because now the CHB has attained the status to have a general election of the chair of the Health Board. On November 20, 2007, the National Assembly sanctioned the legislative amendment to have a general election for the position of chair of the board,” explained Reid.
She and her associates were, at the time of this interview, in a rush to put a general election bylaw into place and everything else necessary for an election for an elected chair.
“The general population of the Cree Nation will vote for a chair of the Health Board in the same way that they vote for a school-board chair or for a Grand Council leader,” said Reid.
“I look forward to an election as I have every confidence in my people. They have demonstrated accountability and responsibility in their general voting and in general elections of Cree leadership in the past. I feel that they can do the same for the Health Board,” she said.