The Cree Health Board reflects on four decades of operation

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Since its inception in 1978 as part of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) is using its 40th anniversary not only to commemorate its illustrious history but also as a means of assessing the objectives established in 2016.

So, while the CHB will celebrate its past accomplishments, it will address its continuing role in maintaining the health and wellbeing of the Cree Nation.

According to Communications Coordinator Katherine Morrow, the CHB’s 2016 strategic regional plan sets targets that the organization uses to negotiate government funding.

“It is very important to define what services are available and how they are delivered,” said Morrow.

In April, Waswanipi will host an assembly to address the issues the CHB faces and to celebrate its history and the people who contributed and who continue to contribute to the health of Crees.

“The Cree Health Board plans to celebrate its 40th with a series of ‘Throwback Thursday’ posts on our Facebook and Instagram sites,” said Morrow. “The Nation magazine helped by allowing us to dig through their photo archive and find pictures used in past issues about Health Board activities, like wellness journeys, vaccination drives and grand openings. The story of the CHB is the story of the Cree Nation and the CHB is a pillar of Cree self-governance. Every single person in Eeyou Istchee has a link with the CHB.”

Sol Awashish, a former employee, remembers what it was like to be in the communities before the formation of the CHB and remarked how things, particularly the focus on health, have changed dramatically since 1978.

“Back in the 1970s, the Montreal General Hospital handled us and helped us navigate public health,” explained Awashish.

“In those days, public health really wasn’t a big thing. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the government decided that more public health was needed. Back then they had a couple of functions, one of them was to monitor diseases, do a lot of research and surveillance, and promote healthy lifestyles.

“In the late 70s and early 80s, the focus shifted from TB to the levels of mercury found in fish,” Awashish noted.

Awashish said that it was through Public Health that they first noticed the spike in diabetes in the 1980s. In the early 1980s, Crees had a diabetes rate of 2.4%, and by the end of the decade, it had climbed to 5%.

“When I started working for the CHB in the late 90s, it was around 10%, and by 2011, the rate had risen to 27.8%,” said Awashish. “Mind you, every time you go out to do a screening, you are going to find what you are looking for and your numbers are going to spike.”

Awashish said that his position at that point changed from focussing on diabetes prevention to the prevention of complications and also looking at the kinds of chronic illnesses that patients could develop as a result of diabetes, such as heart disease and kidney failure.

“There is a big difference between Crees today and Crees of the past,” said Awashish. “Our lifestyles have changed dramatically. My parents were nomadic hunters and fishermen. They moved around to do that and used a lot of energy getting from one place to the next. But today we have grocery stores and transportation. We can leave at 8 pm to go to our camps, which are already set up. In the old days, you had to pitch your tent and get boughs – there was a lot of work in setting up.

“It’s just like how people don’t cook anymore, everybody eats what call ‘Indian Salad,’ which is poutine.”

The Nation will highlight the CHB’s 40th anniversary by focussing on the health and well being of the Cree throughout the year.

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