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Premier calls for more self-reliance

Leaders address health concerns at NAHO forum

Yose Cormier
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 12/03) - Premier Stephen Kakfwi called on Northerners to look to themselves before calling on the government for help last week.

"It's time we took care of ourselves. In the past we managed without all these medical structures. We had people who had specific roles in our community. We can do it ourselves. We have to recognize our gifts and our resources," said Kakfwi to participants at a health forum last Friday.

The three-day forum, organized by the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO), was billed as an opportunity to share knowledge and ideas on health issues aboriginals in the North face.

Kakfwi noted that health has been an issue in the North for many years. He pointed to limited infrastructure, high operating costs, small and widely dispersed population and isolation as problems faced here.

"We are working hard to get more money and help, but communities shouldn't be waiting and not doing anything," he said, adding that although the federal government recently gave $60 million to the three territories, it isn't enough.

"The health system is reaching a crisis point. There is not enough of everything and it's no different here," he said.

He added that there is a lot of work ahead and that the North has to rely on itself.

"We are falling apart - we are under siege. It is our job and challenge to do something.

There is a plan, a vision, but do we have the time and resources? I think so. There will be casualties but we will get stronger.

We are developing the North with the belief that we will get stronger," Kakfwi said.

Another community leader, Dene Nation National Chief Bill Erasmus, said First Nations have to understand themselves first.

"We have to understand what happened to us to deal with these health situations. We are no longer living our traditional way of life and that is something we have to look at," said Erasmus.

The presence of aboriginal leaders at the forum was appreciated, but some think they could have done more.

"It was nice of them to drop by, but it would have been better if they had stayed for the sessions," said Joanne Erasmus, a student counsellor at Aurora College.

The chair of NAHO, Judith Bartlett, saw the presence of the leaders as a good sign.

"It's fabulous to see the leaders take part like this.

"It's a reflection of the commitment of the community," she said.

The forum also featured the health ministers from Nunavut and NWT, the two Yellowknife Dene Nation chiefs and a number of guest speakers from across the North.