Federal, provincial delivery of healthcare services to on-reserve Indigenous people is jurisdictional ‘mess’: INAN Vice-Chair Rachel Blaney says

MP Rachel Blaney fields questions from media after a INAN committee meeting. (CPAC)

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OTTAWA — The member of parliament (MP) for North Island-Powell River Rachel Blaney says that the need for ongoing, on-reserve healthcare is more present than ever. MP Blaney also sits on the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs as vice-chair, which met late last year to finalize recommendations in a recent report called The Challenges of Delivering Continuing Care in First Nations Communities.

North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney

In an phone interview conducted on April 2, 2019, Blaney said that “(the committee) had multiple witnesses that came and testified,” having noted that many of the Indigenous witnesses kept bringing up points on Jordan’s Principle. “As we know with the sad story that Jordan’s Principle is based on it was completely that issue of people arguing who’s jurisdiction was it rather than just delivering the care that was much needed.” Jordan’s Principle is a child-first and needs-based approach used often in healthcare, which seeks to ensure that First Nations children living on- and off-reserve have equitable access to government-funded services.

“We heard repeatedly through the witnesses that often Elders in communities were lost in the fray of jurisdiction,” she said. “Seniors are put in this place of limbo at a very hard and vulnerable time for them.” In many communities healthcare services may often spill over into multiple provinces, making the situation hard for those who need services but are denied because they are told to access those services in a different jurisdiction.

One Indigenous community’s territory, Blaney noted, spills over not only into both Quebec and Ontario, but also over into the U.S. as well. Indigenous members of that community often then face troubles when looking to access those services.

“It just made sense to me that we start having a more comprehensive discussion about jurisdiction, Indigenous peoples’ services, especially around healthcare, and making sure that people are not left in the holes and they get lost in the system,” she continued. Blaney also believes that because First Nations often tap into services from multiple jurisdictions – on-reserve, off-reserve, across provincial boundaries, and even into the U.S. – it causes what could be considered a jurisdictional “messiness”.

As for steps moving forward, Blaney noted that “there’s no funding from the federal government at this time to actually build infrastructure for seniors within Indigenous communities,” but the committee has recommended to review the funding models for on-reserve care. Often, however, it falls on the community’s shoulders to secure funding for healthcare, but these communities typically need infrastructure to provide those services.

“There’s actually no funding for that infrastructure,” she said, having also stated that there’s a “messiness overall. What we see is people falling through these cracks and the lack of resources to look at creative and innovative ways to build some sort of housing to support Elders is also a big issue, especially in rural and remote communities.”

Blaney offers one possible solution to the issue, which is to start collecting data for on-reserve Indigenous peoples so that Canadians can see what’s happening, specifically around statistics, in order to hold the federal government accountable to improving on-reserve conditions. What that looks like right now, however, is too soon to tell.

Having those national numbers compiled from each community could “really push it home what those gaps are for those Indigenous communities across Canada,” the vice-chair said.

The committee is currently comprised of nine Liberal members and three Conservatives, of which Blaney is the only New Democrat to sit on the committee. The recommendations from the report will now go to the Minister of Indigenous Services Seamus O’Regan for consideration. Whether any of the report’s recommendations are taken into serious consideration or will go toward meaningful legislation is yet to be seen.

MP Blaney was first elected back in 2015 during the federal election. She was adopted into an Indigenous family in Stellat’en First Nation. She attended then-titled Malaspina University-College and obtained a degree in First Nation studies. She’s married to Darren Blaney, who is the current Chief of the Homalco First Nation, according to her constituency website.