Move follows intense lobby effort by ITK

Ottawa creates Inuit health office

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

The federal government, in a move that follows a persistent lobbying effort by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, will create an Inuit-specific unit inside Health Canada.

Called the "Office of Inuit Health," the new entity will cost $240,000 this year and get a full budget of $700,000 a year starting in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Tony Clement, the federal health minister, made the announcement after a behind-closed-doors health care meeting in Kuujjuaq last week.

That meeting was attended by a long list of representatives of Inuit organizations, as well as government and quasi-government agencies responsible for providing health care to Inuit.

ITK and other Inuit organizations have long called on Ottawa to take a more "Inuit-specific" approach to federal programs for aboriginal people, especially in health care.

The federal government delivers and pays the cost of health care services for most on-reserve First Nations people.

But nearly all the money Ottawa spends on Inuit health care flows through various territorial governments and regional agencies, who actually supply the services.

So in April of 2007, ITK and Health Canada formed a task force to look at ways of improving the health of Inuit. The creation of the Office of Inuit Health flows directly from its work.

Clement said in a news release that he hopes the move will help improve the health status of Inuit.

He also announced that Ottawa will spend $9.7 million on a variety of projects related to Inuit health.

Of that, $1.6 million will go to health research, including money to help the Qanuippitali? Inuit health survey analyze and distribute information.

Ottawa will spend another $7.6 million on eight "Inuit specific" health projects, but doesn't specify what they are.

Another $289,000, from the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy, will go towards mental health: a pilot project on "mental wellness promotion."

Clement also announced that Ottawa will support a new Inuit group called the "Mental Wellness Team," which will be formed with the help of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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