A main topic discussed at the 32nd Assembly of First Nations was the state of health and social development among First Nations communities.
It was the subject at one of four strategy sessions that took place during the Annual General Assembly, which has been going on the past three days in Moncton.
Key issues included food security and nutrition, HIV/AIDS and sexual health, diabetes, mental health and addictions. But some of the conversation gravitated to the state of the environment on reserves and its effect on people’s health -especially clean drinking water.
Angus Toulouse, regional chief of Ontario, says once the government realizes the need to ensure clean drinking water for first nations, the next step could be fluoridation.
“Our priority is clean drinking water and sustaining the water systems,” he said.
“We are more concerned with functioning water systems.”
But he said that Health Canada has been looking into fluoridation because of the higher cost of dental care.
Six in eight of Manitoba’s reserves are equipped with a fluoridation system, so it’s something many First Nations communities are for, just simply not top on the list of needed health improvements for their communities, Toulouse said.
“Across the country right now there are 120 drinking water advisory groups and 49 high risk water systems,” he said.
“This needs to be addressed.”
Some feel more chemicals in the water wouldn’t be good, while others are for fluoridation to increase dental health.
Another topic discussed during the session was how to improve addictions programs and prevent drug and alcohol abuse from occurring.
Carol Hopkins did a presentation on the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program (NNADAP)and what they are working on to improve this problem among First Nations communities.
“Doctors don’t often have much education around addictions and so we need to partner with them to help them understand the role they play,” Hopkins said.
She said a national renewal forum in January of 2012 is needed to talk about what each region of the country is doing in regards to implementation activities that are meant to help the issue.
The NNADAP is also continuing to look for ongoing collaborations with new partnerships to exchange knowledge and experiences. One concentration is to look at culturally relevant screening and assessment tools for doctors.
“For example, get doctors, before they’re prescribing pain medication, to do a simple screening of five questions to help them understand that the individual may or may not be at risk for an addiction and if they are then look at another course of treatment besides the opioid,” Hopkins said.
Each of the sessions included claims and land rights, education, residential schools as well as health and wellness.
Draft resolutions were drawn up before the assembly and each have relevance to those four topics. About 33 resolutions were presented to the well over 1,000 people who attended the General Assembly.