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Aboriginal health programs will be suspended while health authorities are revamped



The future of aboriginal health in B.C. is uncertain after the money to fund essential community-based programs switches hands at the end of this month.

Millions of dollars that were once going directly from the provincial government to the six Aboriginal Health Councils in B.C. have now been redirected to the newly created health authorities.

As of March 31 the funding for this year runs out and the programs that deal with mental health, addiction and family violence in native communities throughout the province will be discontinued for the time being.

"There's no way for the communities to avoid a disruption to service and no security or guarantees that the service they presently provide will be maintained and stay the same," said Denise Taylor, a communications consultant contracted to the Aboriginal Health Association in B.C.

"You can imagine the level of fear and anxiety in the communities."

The Lower Mainland Aboriginal Health Council which includes aboriginal bands in the Sea to Sky Corridor, is now going to be incorporated into the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCHA) – an organization that has just inherited a massive debt.

"Basically nothing is sacred given the $136 million that we have to find across the authority to trim," said Clay Adams, the communications director for the VCHA.

"We're looking at everything, absolutely everything."

The councils have been told the new health authorities will determine their continued existence by the summer.

For the past 10 years each health council has been getting $750,000 for aboriginal programs.

The councils decide based on needs, where the money goes in the community after reviewing various program proposals. A council sometimes has 30 to 60 proposals to review.

"The whole purpose of the Aboriginal Health Council was to provide the ability for the aboriginal communities to be decision makers about the aboriginal programs specific to addictions and mental health," said Taylor, of the Aboriginal Health Association.

Funding for family violence programs was also included in their mandate.

This year the Mount Currie band received funding for a Family Violence Prevention counsellor.

Statistics from the tribal police for this small native band north of Pemberton pointed to family violence as an ongoing problem in the community.

"A lot of this is generational stuff or residential school stuff that has impacted the individuals and their families," said Merle Wallace, the director of community services with the Mount Currie band.

Wallace is also a representative of the Lower Mainland Aboriginal Health Council through which the band applied for funding for the counsellor.