Maintaining life balance is a hallmark of one of north western Ontario's most distinctive primary health care centres.
Anishnawbe Mushkiki is an Aboriginal Community Health Centre serving 8,000 Aboriginal individuals and families in 32 communities throughout the vast District of Thunder Bay which covers more than 100,000 square kilometres.
"We look at all aspects of the individual, the spiritual, emotional, the mental and the physical," says executive director Bernice Dubec. "When we develop programs, we include each one. We utilize cultural ceremonies or bring in elders who promote traditional teachings. And we bring in experts from health care agencies, a nutritionist or dietician or a physiotherapist."
Anishnawbe Mushkiki is one of 10 Aboriginal Health Access Centres in Ontario funded under the Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Strategy, also known as AHWS. These centres provide programs that combine western traditional and alternative medicine, including:
The Strategy is a partnership between the Ontario government and 14 Aboriginal partners to reduce family violence and improve the health and healing of Aboriginal people. Programs are designed, delivered and managed by Aboriginal people. Aboriginal partners include Ontario First Nations, the Métis Nation of Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres and the Ontario Native Women's Association.
It's a monumental task to bring modern health care to a population that doesn’t have a strong attachment to it, says Dubec. "Aboriginal people have not enjoyed a good relationship with mainstream healthcare. Statistics show that Aboriginal people who have high rates of terminal illnesses or other chronic diseases are being diagnosed at a later stage. In the past, they have not been able to participate in screening, prevention or have access to a physician to get an early diagnosis."
Anishnawbe has made incredible strides among Thunder Bay District Aboriginals, she says, and those worrying statistics are steadily improving. "We provide screening for diabetes, heart disease and cancer to ensure that Aboriginal people get an early diagnosis and access to treatment earlier."
Bernice's pride is evident as she speaks of how the centre has grown, become accepted among Aboriginal people and emerged as a key player in Thunder Bay’s health care community.
"This has been a dream for the last 15 or 20 years, a vision of having our own Aboriginal health centre. We opened in March 2000 and we have been welcomed by the community and other health care organizations."
In 2008, Anishnawbe Mushkiki developed 22 partnerships with local agencies such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Thunder Bay Health Unit. In 2009, that number rose to 32. "We support each other in initiatives we co-sponsor as well as outreach that we provide to the broader community. It has been very successful."
It's not always easy convincing Aboriginal clients to become more involved in their own health care, she says. "We take a proactive approach, empowering Aboriginal people to take active responsibility for their healthcare. It's with this holistic approach to health that we envision our communities and our people will be a lot healthier and live to their full expectations."
About Ontario's Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Strategy