[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
The Nisga'a are taking their health into their own hands by becoming the first native group in Canada to entirely administer their own health-care program.
Instead of Health Canada paying insurance premiums on behalf of status Nisga'a natives to the provincial government, it will pay the money directly to the new Nisga'a Valley health board, the first of its kind in Canada. The health board will issue its own medical cards. They'll be similar to the care cards held by most British Columbians, but the Nisga'a health card will cover all health programs, including dental care and Pharmacare. Health Canada will also hand over to the health board thousands of files of historical Nisga'a health information, including birth, death and adoption certificates.
Nisga'a tribal council president Joe Gosnell yesterday proudly brandished the first laminated health-care card to be issued under the partnership between the Nisga'a health board and Great West Life Assurance Co., based in Vancouver.
Great West Life was the successful private bidder for the Nisga'a health-care contract. "It shows good corporate citizenship but also proves that many private corporations are very interested in forming partnerships with First Nations," he said.
Health board chairman Peter Squires said the Nisga'a will not only administer health care, but will begin "to turn around those dismal statistics we always hear about aboriginal people's higher rates of child mortality, morbidity, teen pregnancy, smoking. "People quote these abstract statistics, but from our perspective, these statistics have faces."
Said health board executive director Reg Percival: "We finally hold our own health-care information and can control and direct our future, including our membership lists, medical history and [be able to] help adoptees lost to us."
Dr. Jay Wortman of Health Canada, who administers health programs for natives, noted that many, including the Nisga'a, already manage parts of their own health programs. But comprehensive medical, dental and drug programs have always, until now, been adjudicated by Health Canada. "Many more First Nations are waiting in the wings to take over our programs and I'm sure the Nisga'a will show them the way with this partnership with Great West," said Wortman.
All status Nisga'a are eligible to apply for the NVHB health card. Benefits will be administered through offices in the Nass Valley, Terrace, Prince Rupert and Vancouver.