A judge has ruled against a suit filed by three First Nations chiefs, who sought to have the Inter Tribal Health Authority (ITHA) reinstated as the government’s chosen healthcare provider on Vancouver Island.
In 2013, the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) took over from Health Canada to appoint and oversee Indigenous healthcare provision in B.C. When it took over, the ITHA fell under the FNHA’s umbrella of oversight.
Jan. 21, after a three-year audit, the FNHA terminated their funding agreements with the ITHA citing a litany of serious failings. They then appointed a temporary management group, Ganhada, to oversee health delivery to the 29 Indigenous member communities on Vancouver Island.
At the end of January, the ITHA won a temporary legal victory forcing the FNHA to release $412,170 worth of funds to them so they could continue to operate as the healthcare provider for the month of February, until the court case was heard on Feb. 19.
The ITHA lawsuit, brought in conjunction with the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw, Tseycum and Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nations, was filed against Canada and the FNHA.
The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw are located in Port Hardy, the Tseycum in North Saanich and Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis come from Gilford Island.
On Feb. 28, the court ruled in the FNHA’s favour, upholding their decision to terminate their funding agreements with the ITHA, effective March 31.
The situation leading up to the court case has been somewhat acrimonious. The ITHA locked their offices to the FNHA and have, so far, limited cooperation with them.
In a statement before the court case, the FNHA said, “ITHA has failed to meet the most basic standards of transparency, accountability and service delivery, compounding this by making untrue and irresponsible claims to our clients.”
The FNHA say they received complaints from a third of all member communities about poor levels of care from the ITHA.
However, Chief Paddy Walkus of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nation is disappointed by the court’s decision.
“We would have preferred it to go differently,” he says. “The [original] audit was unjust as it only talked to a select few [First Nations], some had no input.”
Walkus says that he is wary of being cast as arguing against other First Nations and wants a consensus in the spirit of rebuilding and working together.
In the wake of the decision, the FNHA have begun the process of consulting with member communities, to hear how they would like their future health care provision to look. They say they have written to every First Nation and plan to meet with each one individually to discuss their views.
Walkus thinks trust has been broken, “It will be difficult to participate in any meaningful dialogue.”
The FNHA said in a press release, “Senior FNHA staff will continue to work with community leadership in the spirit of self-determination to ensure a seamless transition to new service providers.”
It went on to add, “At every stage of this difficult process FNHA has put the health and wellness of its clients first and will continue to do so.”