Cree Patient services program responds to criticism with notable improvements

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Many complaints have been lodged in recent years about the Cree patient lodging and travel program. But after a number of changes at Cree Patient Services, the program is making notable progress in ensuring that Crees seeking health care in southern cities such as Montreal are housed and transported safely and comfortably.

The first thing to change was the travel. In October 2015, the Cree Health Board and Air Creebec partnered up to provide two patient charter services in partnership with Air Creebec. The coastal charter flies six days a week Sunday to Friday; the inland charter flies five days a week, Monday to Friday. They are faster and more comfortable, and have an on-board nurse.

Then, last spring, CPS negotiated with Montreal’s Espresso Hotel to ensure appropriate housing for patients. Finally, the name of the CPS program is changing: it will now be known as Wiichiitun.

A tour and feast was held at the hotel on Guy Street in downtown Montreal December 6 to celebrate the changes as well as the official opening of the Cree lodging centre. Over 200 people attended the event, including Cree patients.

The hotel has taken great steps to accommodate Cree patients. They included a spiritual room (cheyamaougamikw), an activity room (sabtuan) and a community kitchen (piminûwhaûgamikw). The rooms were clean, comfortable and made it a “home away from home” one person remarked.


Perhaps surprisingly, Cree Board of Health and Social Services Chairperson Bella M. Petawabano said people should continue complaining. As Moses told the guests, “This is an example of the Cree Health Board listening to the people who use this service. It is the persistent voice of the people that made this event today. As I told you many times, the Cree Health Board looks at complaints in a different way – in a positive way. By complaining that’s how we improve the services and we thank you and continue to keep doing that. Because it is only you who can tell us how well we are doing to improve services. We are here to provide services and care.”

Cree Health Board interim Director of Patient Services Helen Bélanger Shecapio-Blacksmith explained that the program’s new name, Wiichihiituwin, was chosen from a contest in which participants submitted 12 possible terms. “In English it means helping others or helping you,” Shecapio-Blacksmith said. “Tonight we are really happy because over 200 people who came out to celebrate with us and the patients. At any given time, there can be up to 160 Cree people staying here at the Espresso Hotel.”


CHB’s interim Executive Director Daniel St-Amour said his mandate in his position was to solve the problems at Cree Patient Services. “That was where we had the most complaints. I was told fix it. The first things we did were to get lodging with the Espresso and the charter. We set out to improve the traveling and the lodging. These things make your life a lot easier when you seek care because there is nothing worse than going to the doctor when you are really tired. You need a good rest and we want you to get well.”

But the changes have only just begun, St-Amour promised. “There is a lot more coming, this I can promise you,” he said. “What you are seeing is the vision the board of the CHB has for Cree Patient Services. It is a compassionate service. The staff of the CPS has been working really hard to make this happen.”

Director of Justice and Correctional Services Donald Nicholls said the community kitchen model at the hotel is a proven success. “This is a great initiative of the Cree Health Board to have a kitchen in Montreal for patients to cook traditional meals,” he said. “We established a traditional food program for people in detention a number of years ago, as Elders told us healing comes from the land. We figured if we could not bring people to the land, we would bring that healing to the people we work with through the traditional foods. So, we set up freezers in our communities to allow people to contribute food to the program. We would be happy to also work with the health board if there are donations people would like to make for Cree people who may be in the south for health reasons.”

Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come said the evolution of health care in Eeyou Istchee is part of a long-term vision to have Crees manage their own social services. “Our leaders in the past wanted to have control of their own health services,” said Coon Come. “We’ve talked about control of Cree education. Then we talked about control of Cree health and social services and I recognize Abel Kitchen, who was involved in those negotiations. That’s certainly being masters of your own destiny, of managing your own facilities. That was not easy but the hardest thing is to implement those visions and those dreams.”

Glenna Matoush

Glenna Matoush was on hand at the event to display the art she has created since she became legally blind. “I can still see the art I want to do in my head,” she told the Nation.

Matoush, who now lives in Montreal, draws from her experiences in traditional Native ceremonies in her work. She uses birch bark, porcupine quills, moose and caribou hair, bones, beads, sweet grass and cedar on paper, canvas and denim with both acrylic and oils. She incorporates the connection to the land that many Native people feel and know in a way that any culture can understand.

Matoush spent many years in Mistissini and began fighting for Native rights in the 1960s. She took part in the occupation of Alcatraz Island near San Francisco in 1969 with a group of American Indians who called themselves Indians of All Tribes (IOAT). The action called for respect of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie between the Lakota and the United Sates that stated all retired, abandoned or out-of-use federal land was to be returned to the Native people from whom it was taken. They felt since the Alcatraz penitentiary had been closed in 1963, the island should qualify for return to Native control under the treaty. Though forcibly ended by the US government, the 19-month-long occupation had a direct effect on federal Indian policy and established a precedent for Indian activism. At its peak, there were over 400 people on the island.


Anyone wanting to buy Matoush’s artwork can contact her by phone at 514-762-1769, though she asks that people not leave voicemail messages.

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