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Photos: Trudeau declares federal boost to Indigenous health care funding at townhall event

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke directly with attendees Friday at the Chief Joe Mathias Centre on the Squamish Nation's Capilano 5 Reserve

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on the North Shore on Friday to announce an increase in federal funding for Indigenous-led health care, and to have direct conversations with First Nations members at a townhall event.

Along with Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu, Trudeau visited the Chief Joe Mathias Centre on the Capilano 5 Reserve, where he was welcomed by elected councillors from Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) and executive staff from B.C.’s First Nations Health Authority and First Nations Health Council.

Speaking to a crowd of Indigenous attendees and the media, Trudeau declared the 10-year renewal of the British Columbia Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nations Health Governance, a legal agreement that transfers the federal government’s role in designing and delivering health programs to First Nations in B.C. to the FNHA.

Currently, the federal government reportedly invests around $5 billion in Indigenous health care each year. Through the 2023 budget, Trudeau said the federal government is upping health funding to provinces and territories by $196.1 billion over 10 years, while investing an additional $2 billion over that time through a new Indigenous Health Equity Fund to help ensure access to quality and culturally safe health-care services.

Renewal of the B.C. agreement – which sees $8.2 billion going to Indigenous health in the province over 10 years – is about improving delivery and meeting the unique health needs of First Nations communities, Trudeau said.

“Things like more community-based approaches to health care, recognition of the intergenerational trauma that impacts well-being in your communities, innovative mental health and wellness care, work to continue to address those social determinants of health and ensuring that as First Nations you can have access to culturally safe care on your land, and in your language,” he said.

“In renewing this deal, we’re also continuing the important work of renewing Canada’s relationship with First Nations and with all Indigenous peoples.”

Hajdu called the First Nations Health Authority and Council an inspiration to the rest of the country. “This is a model that can be replicated,” she said.

First Nations Health Authority CEO ​Richard Jock said the provincial funding is foundational to building more elements “to deal with the many health needs that have been relayed to us over the past 10 years by First Nations individuals, by health directors and by community leaders.”

Trudeau responds to attendees in townhall Q&A

After the opening statements, Trudeau turned to face the audience, and took individual questions from attendees.

The first person to speak said she was one of the mothers of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“I [raised] my only grandson who's a child of my late daughter on $160 per month from Squamish Nation social services and housing until his graduation. Could you do that?” she said, asking if the prime minister would fulfill his promise to meet all 231 calls for justice in the MMIWG report.

Trudeau responded that the federal government has co-developed agreements to keep Indigenous kids out of provincial care, where they lose their languages and culture. He noted a deal with the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan that gave the community jurisdiction over its child welfare system.

“We need to make sure that the aunties and grandmothers who are also taking care of kids who may otherwise end up in the system are being properly supported on that,” he said.

While he responded to questions for more than an hour, Clarissa Antone said she would have liked to have heard him speak more directly on health supports for Indigenous Elders.

“They don't have the in-home care anymore,” she said. “So it's really been a struggle ever since the pandemic came – it's been a big struggle for our people.”

Antone describes herself as a Squamish Indian Band member, and was part of the Trans Mountain pipeline protests in 2014. Earlier on Friday, she met the prime minister during a ceremony with a smaller group on the Squamish reserve.

“My question to Justin Trudeau was, ‘Do you drink clean water every day?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘So do I. So let's keep it that way.’”

Clarissa Antone meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a ceremony on the Capilano 5 Reserve on Friday morning. Antone said she wanted to hear Trudeau speak more directly about supports for Indigenous Elders. Courtesy of Clarissa Antone

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