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News ᑎᐹᒋᒧᐧᐃᓐ

Lessons from Alaska

BY Ben Powless Dec 1, 2022

Cree Health Board chairperson Bertie Wapachee travelled to Alaska in September to meet with health authorities, with the aim of learning and improving health and social services in Eeyou Istchee. 

The partnership with Southcentral Foundation began in 2016. The Foundation describes itself as an Indigenous-owned healthcare organization that serves 65,000 Alaska Native and Native American people living in and around Anchorage. 

Justin Ringer, Director of Strategy and Organizational Development for the CHB, said the trip was an opportunity to learn how Southcentral systems work in practice, their physical set-ups, and how they communicate and use data. 

The Cree delegation took part in a three-day training run by Alaskan authorities. “We’ve adapted that training with their support, but we want to make sure people have a chance to see it and be a part of it and see the impact it has on creating an organizational culture based on relationships,” Ringer said. 

Ringer said the CHB aims to have all employees go through this three-day orientation “to build strong relationships with each other and with clients, communities and families.”

This represents a shift towards relationship-based care, where the individual, their family and their wider community are considered as part of treatment, including initiatives for dealing with historical trauma and issues around health and wellbeing. Ringer said that focus on relationships was reflected in improved healthcare outcomes and relationships with community members.

Cree officials have also been looking at how Alaskan officials use data to inform their decision-making and measure performance, as well as targeting interventions for certain parts of the population. 

Another approach they’re trying to integrate is creating opportunities for community members in healthcare and social services starting in high school – offering positions from administrative tasks to clinical roles, including as social workers, nurses and physicians. 

The long-term goal is to increase the number of community members working as caregivers. “By doing that we hope to create an environment that attracts people who want be part of the Cree Board of Health,” Ringer said. “That’s an important factor in ensuring we have a stable, healthy, happy, motivated workforce for the long-term.”

The relationship isn’t just one-way, however. Ringer said Alaskan officials have also visited their offices in Montreal and that they’ll hopefully be able to visit Cree communities with the end of pandemic restrictions. They’re interested in seeing how their practices have been adapted for local contexts, which helps them with their other partners across North America. 

The partnership carried on through the pandemic, with both health authorities sharing information about how they were responding, the impacts of new restrictions and protocols, how they managed to adapt to things like shortages, and how to support employees. 

The CHB has partnerships with other health authorities, both across Quebec, Canada and internationally, including with Inuit communities in Kativik and Nunavik, as well as working with health authorities in Haarlem, Netherlands, focused on child health. 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.