In honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21), learn more about the relationships that Correctional Health Services is developing with the First Nations Health Authority and Indigenous nations and groups across Northern British Columbia.
While Indigenous peoples across Canada make up only 4 per cent of the population nationwide, they are disproportionally represented in both the federal and provincial correctional systems. In BC about 30 per cent of the population in our provincial correctional centres are Indigenous. In Northern BC at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre (PGRCC), the percentage of Indigenous clients can sometimes make up to 80 per cent of the centre’s population. For women, the situation is even worse – in some centres, up to 95 per cent of the women’s prison population are Indigenous.
Correctional Health Services (CHS) assumed operational responsibility for health services at all 10 BC provincial correctional centres in October 2017. CHS is part of BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services, and part of our mandate is to better support clients, both when they are incarcerated, and as they transition back to life outside of a correctional centre.
To support Indigenous clients, CHS is reaching out and engaging community partners and building face-to-face relationships. The team has made a special effort to engage with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) and local First Nations groups in Northern BC where 35 per cent of the entire BC First Nations population of British Columbia lives. The Northern region is made up of 54 First Nations communities, nine tribal councils, and 17 distinct linguistic groups.
“We’re focusing on face-to-face communication, relationship development on a grassroots level, and through working with and learning from our partners in FNHA and different indigenous leaders and organizations,” says Richard Singleton, Regional Director, Vancouver Island, Interior and Northern BC for CHS. “We’re asking a lot of thoughtful questions and listening to what these representatives from the 54 nations state are their main concerns and what they feel the solutions need to be to address these long-standing issues.”
Over the past few months, CHS leaders have participated in the FNHA’s Northern Region caucus meeting and three sub-regional caucuses. The focus for the meetings was on mental health and addictions. I gave a presentation at the regional meeting with CHS Medical Director, Dr. Nader Sharifi, and Richard Singleton presented at the sub-regional caucuses.
At one of the caucus meetings, Richard was approached by one of the health care leaders from an Indigenous community north of Prince George. The leader had a question about Take Home Naloxone (THN) training and invited the PGRCC CHS team to participate in the local health fair that this Nation was hosting. Richard arranged for the PGRCC CHS Access and Transition Nurse Richard Berger, Mental Health and Substance Use Nurse Emma Kucera, and an Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT) Licensed Practical Nurse Letitia (Tish) Trevelyan who then visited the Nation and attended their health fair where they were able to answer a number of questions on THN.
Projects undertaken by the PGRCC mental health and substance use professionals include the development by Tish of an OAT resources map for Northern BC and a Prince George specific handout on Suboxone and methadone resources for clients.
From an Indigenous specific perspective, two members of the PGRCC team, Richard Berger and Manager Rodger Travale, have reached out to the Prince George chapter of the Dudes Club and taken the Dudes Club facilitator training with the goal of starting to facilitate this group in PGRCC. The Dudes Club was formed on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver for Indigenous men. Its goal of creating a sense of brotherhood where health and wellness are at the forefront has been so successful that chapters have opened across British Columbia.
“In the end it’s all about relationship-building and creating environments and communities that support the best outcomes for all our clients. These relationships then create a culture of collaboration wherein myself or the CHS team members can pick up the phone and creatively mobilize supports to address gaps in our system, and our partners can pick up the phone and give us feedback about how best to meet particular needs,” says Singleton. “Our CHS services are not the only answer but we can be a small part of the solution to start improving health outcomes for Indigenous people in provincial correctional centres across BC.”
Photos: Richard Berger (top), Tish Trevelyan (bottom)