“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That old saying best sums up the work done by the Cree Health Board (CHB). The 2010-2011 year was a busy one with the CHB’s progress and challenges laid out in their annual report.

In the report’s introduction, Chairman James Bobbish noted the CHB’s accomplishments and issues during the past year. Bobbish also has a seat on the Board of Directors for the new Eeyou Communications Network. The hope from this involvement is an improvement of links and services in the various sectors, cost-effective and higher quality services, tele-health services that reduce travel and costs, and making everyday operations more efficient and effective.

Bobbish pointed out that a Cree working group has been formed to address concerns the impact of the Plan Nord will have on Eeyou Istchee, and defining a process that will assess projects to lower the negative impacts on health, social and environmental well-being.

The Cree Task Force on Social Wellness was established in 2011. Its focus is to determine the social issues that are important to the Cree as well as implementing solutions in a Cree Social Policy that will be developed later this year. The CHB has been working in cooperation with the Grand Council, Cree School Board, Youth Council, Elders’ Council and CREECO on this project.

On the issue of customary adoption, the CHB is working with the Quebec Native Women (QNW) as well as other First Nations and Inuit communities on proposing a change to the Civil Code of Quebec to have the effects of customary adoption recognized. The CHB is also working on a legal case involving the customary adoption of a Cree child.

The Customary Adoption report released by the QNW in August 2010 recommended that in order to protect the social well-being and cultural identity of Aboriginal youth they have to address the root causes behind the problems through a holistic approach. The main focus is to address the effects of colonization on Native people, which has resulted in poverty, loss of parenting skills, inadequate housing, poor quality water and violence on the reserve.

The growth rate in Eeyou Istchee is at 1.75%, almost triple that of the Quebec average. The birthrate in the different towns varies, from around 100 per year for Chisasibi down to 13 for Nemaska. While the infant mortality rate has been dropping since the 1950s, it still is triple the rate for the rest of Quebec. Incurable genetic conditions are responsible for a third of those deaths over the Quebec average.

During the year the complaints department dealt with 21 complaints with most of them being resolved. The medical examiner had reviewed only three cases this year involving members of the Council of Physicians, Dentists and Pharmacists, which was a drop from the nine reviewed the previous year.

A major issue facing the CHB is the explosive rise of diabetes in the community, which in 1983 only affected 2.4% of Eeyouch whereas in 2009, more than one in five adults have been diagnosed with diabetes. Maamuu Nakaahehtaau is an initiative that was launched during Diabetes Awareness Month in November 2010. It was started in order to combat the diabetes epidemic by building healthier communities.

Sadly, this past year saw the passing of two members of the Council of Chishaayiyuu, Sally Matthew and Smally Petawabano, who both worked tirelessly to preserve the Cree language and culture. Another tragic loss was that of Dr. Jimmy (Dimitrios) Deschesnes, a cancer survivor who dedicated his life to the health of the Cree community. He passed away on March 10, 2011 from multiple sclerosis at the age of 46.

Chisasibi Hospital has seen increases in many different areas of service. The laboratory has been performing 23% more tests than it had in 2005-2006 even though it was almost closed during the summer due to a personnel shortage. The outpatient clinic has also seen a 20% increase in visits and a six-fold increase in observation hours.

The radiologist shortage in Quebec caused a backlog of 4000 unread X-ray films from May 2009 until September 2010. Thanks to help from the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec and the Centre hospitalier Hôtel-Dieu d’Amos, the backlog has been resolved.

The closing of dental clinics in Mistissini and Eastmain due to sick leaves by the dentists on December 20, 2010 greatly affected the locals who had reduced access to dental services. These closures decreased the dentistry department’s productivity by 11% as it was impossible to replace the dentists in such a short time.

The 2010-2011 year has been quite a busy for the CHB, as evidenced by the 90-page report. There were many issues to overcome and although they succeeded in resolving many of them, there is still work to be done.