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Canada's First Indian-Controlled Health Centre Opens

Archie King

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      AUGUST 1979      v09 n08 p06  
The first Indian controlled Health Centre in Canada was recently opened in the city of North Battleford, Saskatchewan. The opening of the Battlefords Indian Health Centre represents over 15 years of discussions, negotiations, confrontation and further negotiations by the Indian people in an attempt to maintain and improve health services for Indian people in the North Battleford District.

In the past the Indian people enjoyed their own health services in the form of their own Indian Hospital. Although this hospital did not provide a total range of up-to-date hospital services, it did provide an atmosphere where Indian people felt comfortable.

With the need for expanded and upgraded general hospital facilities in North Battleford and the degeneration of the Indian Hospital, discussions began to take place about expanding the Union Hospital in North Battleford to include facilities and additional bed space for the Indian people. Although these proposals made sense from an administrative and facilities point of view, the Indian people realized that it would result in a downgrading of both their own level of services and their treaty rights as well.

Officials from the Department of Health and Welfare of Canada and the Battleford's Union Hospital conducted negotiations with the Indian Health Lay Advisory Board during 1961-1971. Throughout the negotiations, Indian leaders consistently stated that they did not want to amalgamate the two hospitals.

In 1971, the former Minister of Health, John Munro decided unilaterally to accept the Union Hospital's proposal and closed the Indian Hospital.

The Indian leaders had never agreed to the proposal and continued to make representation to Ottawa to reconsider the decision. In 1973, former Health Minister Marc Lalonde agreed to reconsider the closure of the Indian hospital and further discussions and negotiations took place.

In 1977, the Indian Chiefs of the North Battleford District submitted a brief to the Honourable Marc Lalonde and the Honourable Warren Allmand, the Minister of Indian Affairs expressing their concerns and their frustrations over the misunderstandings and the lack of regard for the Indian's point of view.

This brief contained suggestions for a review of overall Indian health problems related to social conditions, housing, education and general community health services.

In response to the brief, Mr. Lalonde appointed a task force in May 1977 to review the numerous concerns and suggestions expressed by the Chiefs.

The task force consisted of representatives of the North Battleford Chiefs, Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, Province of Saskatchewan, Department of Indian Affairs and the Department of National Health and Welfare.

They proposed the continuation and expansion of community health services through an Indian Health Centre and concurred with the closure of acute care facilities of the Indian Hospital. Receiving this report, Mr. Lalonde announced the closure of the Indian Hospital.

Under pressure from the Indian people, Mr. Lalonde agreed to another review of the situation and retained Dr. Graham Clarkson in July of 1977 to develop a "concrete, functional health services plan for the reserves in the North Battleford area substantiated by way of statistical information."

Dr. Clarkson's suggestions were for the establishment of an Indian Health Centre geared to providing comprehensive community services that had not been adequately outlined in earlier proposals.

With funding from the Department of National Health and Welfare, an administrative structure was established consisting of a Board of Directors representing all of the reserves in the North Battleford district.


Steve Pooyak
Steve Pooyak proudly displays a logo used by the Indian Health Centre.
The logo was developed by Caroline Prince, one of the staff members.