Treaty 6 nations tell Alberta it needs to consult before changing health-care system

Chiefs from Treaty 6 nations in Alberta say they weren’t consulted on the province’s plan to completely revamp the way health is delivered.

The plan, announced on Nov. 8 by Premier Danielle Smith, will bring sweeping changes to dismantle Alberta Health Services. It will be broken up into four separate divisions: acute, primary and continuing care and mental health and addiction.

“You’re going to get more accountable, more flexible health-care networks with no changes to public health care or any cuts to front line services,” Smith said during the announced changes.

But Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations Grand Chief Desmond Bull said that even though Ottawa is responsible for treaty health care, the province should have come to his group first.

“Obviously that has not been honoured, so for me, it is a little concerning,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean we can’t fix and move forward and reverse how we can conduct the process. Especially addressing mental health services within this province.”

Bull said treaty rights such as the medicine chest give them a seat at the table for consultation on health.

“We as an Indigenous people especially within this province that outlines the Treaties of 6,7 and 8 realize that it’s very important the process to duly consult duly based on this agreement,” he said. “It needs to be more thoroughly conducted. The consultation process that may impact indigenous people.”

Neither Smith nor her Indigenous services minister responded to a request for an interview from APTN News.

Instead, APTN received an email from Alberta’s health department.

“Right now a series of meetings are being planned with First Nations health directors and Métis partners,” said the statement. “Minister Lagrange will be sitting down with representation from Treaty 6 in the next couple of weeks including Chief Desmond Bull.

“One of the immediate actions we took was to create a new Indigenous Health division within Alberta Health to elevate and focus on health-care equity for Alberta’s Indigenous peoples.”

The transformation is to take up to two years, and while Smith said front-line health jobs will be protected, “you’re going to see a process of streamlining in the management layers.” 

Alberta Health Services, or AHS, was created 15 years ago, amalgamating disparate health regions into one superboard tasked with centralizing decision-making, patient care and procurement. 

Its annual operating budget is about $17 billion. It has 112,000 direct employees with thousands more working in labs, as physicians, and in community care facilities. 

With files from the Canadian Press

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