A new Mi'kmaw health authority years in the making has received nearly $9 million in federal funding to take more control of designing and delivering culturally safe care for Mi'kmaw people in Nova Scotia.
Tajikeimɨk — which translates as "to be healthy" in English — will build on existing health and wellness programs in the province's 13 Mi'kmaw communities, while also collaborating with Nova Scotia's health authority to ensure "high-quality, culturally safe and wholistic approaches" wherever people live.
"We do access services within the current health system within Nova Scotia, so I think it's about creating those relationships and improving the services and the care for Mi'kmaq," Sharon Rudderham, the new director of health transformation for Tajikeimɨk, told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Monday.
She said it's also important build more health and wellness services on reserve so people can access them where they live.
Tajikeimɨk has been in the works since about 2018, and last week the federal government said it would spend $8.96 million over the next two years to support the authority's growth.
Lindsay Peach, the organization's new executive director, said transforming health care in Nova Scotia requires systemic change and a lot of "thoughtful collaboration."
"This federal commitment of funding and support is an important milestone on our journey to develop a new, self-determined health system that is guided by Mi'kmaw culture and values, rooted in two-eyed seeing and informed through community engagement," Peach said in a statement about the funding last week.
Barriers to care
Rudderham, who spent 20 years working as health director with the Eskasoni Community Health Centre in Cape Breton, said data clearly shows the stark disparities in health outcomes for Mi'kmaw people and the general population.
"Often individuals are stereotyped, or it's not a safe environment when trying to access the services, often due to barriers in communication," she said.
For example, Rudderham said there are no translation services as part of the province's toll-free mental health crisis line. It's meant Mi'kmaw speakers from across the province often call the Eskasoni crisis line when they're in distress.
Listen to Sharon Rudderham's full interview with Information Morning:
The phone line offers services in both English and Mi'kmaw, 24/7.
"It's a culturally supported service that uses both Western approaches and Indigenous models, or Mi'kmaw models of care," Rudderham said.
Designed for and by community
Last week, Tajikeimɨk announced that it's working with a Montreal organization to set up a new early years program that will offer supports, from prenatal to preschool, for young families.
Rudderham said Mi'kmaw health organizations across the province have been breaking down barriers in the health system for decades, and listening to community members to hear what services they need.
"We've already seen in the past that programs and services designed by the community receive more uptake in the community and there's a real understanding of what we're trying to do," she said.
Tajikeimɨk will build on that work, Rudderham said, while also taking lessons from First Nations elsewhere in Canada.
"B.C. First Nations have successfully transitioned to managing and establishing a First Nations health authority, so we're hoping to learn from the B.C. example and to build a model that is a high-quality service for the Mi'kmaw here in Nova Scotia," she said.
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