Remarks at the Gathering Wisdom for a Shared Journey conference
Chiefs, leaders, health directors and wellness leads, it is a pleasure to be gathered with you all today on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the difficult news coming out of Tseshaht First Nations last week, following their preliminary work related to identifying and locating unmarked graves at the former Alberni Residential School. As always, our government will be there every step of the way.
We are gathered today to discuss First Nations health and welfare and wellness. The success, the challenges, the heartbreaking moments, but also to look into the future at the work we are continuing to do to address the social determinants of health and improve Indigenous health outcomes. I want to thank our hosts, the First Nations Health Council, as well as the First Nations Health Authority, whom I've had the pleasure of meeting with this morning.
I'm happy to be joined here by Minister Patty Hajdu. Some of you may know this already, but before entering politics, Patty worked in public health and social services. She continues to put compassion and equity at the center of everything she does. This Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, she will always be there working with you as partners on health care. I also want to acknowledge the presence of Premier Eby this morning. David and I were at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University yesterday in Langley, where we had the chance to meet with nursing students who will play such an important role in our communities once they've left school and of course we announced that we're moving forward together on health priorities to deliver results for people across B.C.
Three weeks ago, we announced our plan to strengthen our public universal health care system. As part of this plan, we're making major investments in health care $198 billion, including a $2 billion investment for the creation of the Indigenous Health Equity Fund. This fund will support First Nation, Inuit and Metis partners who can respond to the unique and systemic challenges they face every day when accessing health services and we're also working with provinces and territories on bilateral deals that will make real improvements for all Canadians. Particularly, we want to see results in four priority areas. More access to primary care like family doctors and nurse practitioners, more support for health care workers, and reduced wait times for appointments and procedures, better mental health and substance use care, and fourth, a more modern system that allows you to securely share your health information with your health care team.
In the space of just three weeks, we have now signed agreements in principle with nine provinces, including British Columbia, and we are continuing our work to sign agreements with the one remaining province and with the territories. In our negotiations with the provinces and territories, it is important that Indigenous communities have a seat at the table.
As we're negotiating bilateral deals with each province and territory, we're making sure that Indigenous peoples are not left aside because members of your communities also utilize the health care systems that are run by provincial and territorial governments. Provinces and territories have a responsibility to ensure that Indigenous peoples have equal access to care when they need it free of racism and discrimination. These bilateral agreements must respect these rights and principles. Before any deal gets finalized, we'll work with Indigenous leadership to include you in these important discussions and we'll work together to make sure that there are measurable results.
Our government has been very clear, enhancements to provincial and territorial health funding must seek results-based measures to assess improvements across all vulnerable groups. This includes the collection of disaggregated data, which is critical to advancing equitable access to health care, particularly in urban areas. The collection of such data is a gap that Indigenous partners have long identified, and we look forward to collaborating further to advance information gathering and sharing systems that are so critical to improving overall health outcomes. This requires collaboration between all governments, which is another reason I'm so glad to see David here today and it’s particularly true when you think of people who require better wraparound services when they have to leave their communities to access more specialized care in provincial and territorial health systems. Making sure indigenous voices are heard and taken into account will help improve coordination and cooperation, and cooperation is how we build a better and healthier future for everyone.
In addition to negotiating agreements with the provinces and territories to ensure that Indigenous voices are heard and listened to, we will also work directly with you to help First Nations, Inuit and Métis people close the health care gap. As I mentioned earlier and as announced three weeks ago, our government will invest $2 billion in the Indigenous Health Equity Fund.
Beyond making sure that Indigenous voices are included in the bilateral negotiations. We know that indigenous peoples have their own unique health needs. You continue to face gaps in care at all levels, which are especially felt by those who require wraparound services for mental health or substance use. No matter your income or where you live, whether you live somewhere remote, rural or urban, you deserve access to the best possible care to the rollout of the Indigenous Health Equity Fund will be designed and implemented in partnership with Indigenous leadership, such as the First Nations Health Authority. It will directly support First Nation Inuit and make priorities and approaches to enhance health outcomes at the community and regional levels.
For example, is there a clinic or a hospital in rural or northern region that needs more equipment to do scans so that people can get a diagnosis where they live? The fund can help with that. Or is there a remote community that needs support to improve access to virtual care so that people don't have to leave their communities or even wait weeks for an appointment with a doctor or a nurse practitioner? Or can we expand on Indigenous midwifery and prenatal care supports that people have so long been calling for? Indigenous communities will be able to set up supports and plan for a health care system that works for them over the long term. This Indigenous health equity fund is an enhancement on top of the investments we've made in Indigenous health care since 2015 and we will not stop here.
We will continue to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples so that your communities can put in place support measures and plan a health system adapted to your needs.
We will build on the ongoing work of Indigenous-led health transformation with many partners across the country and the ongoing federal investments in Indigenous health care and we will continue to advance health equity, something that's very, very important to me and to our government.
Health has always been a priority for our government. It was a priority before and during the pandemic and it is still a priority today.
The pandemic reminded all of us just how important our health is. It put enormous pressure on our health systems and on our health care workers and on your communities who are already shouldering so much. It highlighted the gaps we still need to address, and it made us take a hard look at the long-standing issues facing our health care systems right across the country.
We need health care systems that are capable of helping people when and where they need it, and we need to ensure that no one is left behind.
As I've sat down over the years with leadership within the First Nations Health Authority, I can't help, obviously, but marvel at the extraordinary leadership you've been able to show these past years and the vision you've shared for how we move forward in delivering real care, grounded in communities, grounded in cultural sensitivity and traditional knowledge, and connected to what people need to not just be less sick, but to be more well and it's obvious that there are a lot of Indigenous communities and nations across the country who could learn and benefit from the kind of leadership and solutions that you've put forward here in B.C., even as you're looking for how to go even further and better in what you're doing and I'm going to be there with you.
But I was reflecting this morning on the fact that it's not just Indigenous communities across the country that could benefit from the vision, the strategy, the leadership that you have shown grounded in care and wellness, sensitive to being trauma informed, grounded in community culture and in deeper supports that go beyond band-aids or even surgery. The vision the First Nations Health Authority has put forward for wellness in Indigenous communities and First nations communities across B.C. is a vision that could and should shape all health systems. Indigenous and non-Indigenous across the country.
The perspective you have, the solutions you've put forward are truly inspiring and should lead the way for all of us. I often reflect on how we'd be facing far less of an environmental crisis if all our, my colonial ancestors had done a better job of listening to the people who'd cared for this land for millennia. Well, as we think about how to keep individuals and communities healthy and well, we have an opportunity now to learn from that vision and that understanding of what health is and how to support people to live long, full extraordinary lives. Western medicine has an awful lot to learn from not just the traditional groundings you have, but the focus and emphasis you have on wellness and it is an incredible pleasure for me to be able to say that we will continue to not just work with you to deliver here in B.C., for your communities, but to learn and improve health outcomes for all Canadians accessing high quality health services.
We'll continue to partner with you here so that these health services are culturally appropriate and respectful of traditional knowledges and practices, and that will allow us to deliver real results now and long into the future as we make our health care system stronger and more resilient for everyone.
Thank you very much, dear friends.
Thank you so much.