'H' is for Health

Written by Dr. Jennifer Shea, Assistant Professor of Aboriginal Health in the Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University (MUN).

When discussing health in this province, we often jump to issues and deficiencies in the health care system. There is certainly no disputing the difficult financial situation in the province and the strain on the system. Nonetheless, for this entry, I want to focus on the varied meanings and strengths of health care in Labrador.

Under the provincial health care system, Labradorians receive care from one of the province’s four regional health authorities: Labrador-Grenfell Health (LGH). LGH provides services to all of Labrador and to communities north of Bartlett's Harbour on the island of Newfoundland. Its facilities include three hospitals, two long-term care facilities, three health centres, and 14 community clinics. LGH offers many kinds of care, including acute, cancer, and dental care, to name a few.

As the ancestral homeland of the Inuit of Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut and the Innu of Nitassinan, Labrador also has some health services delivered by Indigenous groups.

The Nunatsiavut Government’s (NG) Department of Health and Social Development (DHSD) is mandated to provide a defined range of programs and services for the health and social development needs of beneficiaries from/in the Nunatsiavut region. The six program areas include: Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB); mental wellness and healing services; communicable disease control; home and community care; healthy lifestyles; and healthy children and youth. DHSD coordinates health care delivery with the provincial Government of Newfoundland and Labrador through the Labrador-Grenfell Regional Health Authority, along with other regional health authorities, and various federal government departments. Because many factors impacting health and wellness are influenced by factors outside of direct health systems (the social determinants of health), DHSD also fosters partnerships with other organizations, government bodies, and community agencies. The DHSD is comprised of a Regional Office located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, as well as community offices in seven communities: North West River, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Rigolet, Postville, Makkovik, Hopedale, and Nain. Ninety (90) percent of the employees are Inuit beneficiaries.

The NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) is a rights-based governing body that represents approximately 6,000 Southern Inuit who belong to central and southern Labrador. Health and well-being are holistic for Southern Inuit, who have a strong spiritual connection to the land, sea and ice. Community health is impacted by many factors, including water and food security, culturally-relevant education, transportation, governance, and a traditional way of life. The NCC Health and Social Sector department is involved in a number of community health-related initiatives, including research. Over the years, these projects have included work on preventing and raising awareness of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, as well as preventive work on illicit drug use, violence, and suicide.

The Innu Nation represents the Innu of Labrador, with locations in two communities: Natuashish and Sheshatshiu. Both Innu communities work with federal and provincial governments in providing services for band members and coordinating NIHB. The Mushuau Innu Health Commission (Natuashish) works out of the same clinic as LGH, employing a Health Director and providing public, home, and community care. Natuashish also provides mental health and addictions services including a healing lodge. Similarly, Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation also works out of the same clinic as LGH, providing public health and home care. Sheshatshiu has two health directors: one for Primary Health and one for Social Health. Social Health offices and services operate out of the Mary May Healing Centre. Both communities also employ both a community health planner and community health worker and provide a great deal of tailored programming (including programming for youth) to support and ensure health in the community.

While biomedical perspectives often describe health in terms of illness/disease in the body, many of us view health as more holistic and encompassing spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental health. In each of the Indigenous groups in Labrador, there is a great deal of attention to incorporating culture into health. As one example, traditional healing is sacred and still being used today, following traditional methods that have been passed down through generation.
Within Labrador, I’m sure all residents would agree that this beautiful big land plays a huge role in health. There is nothing quite like getting out on the land (either winter or summer), having a boil up, and connecting with your surroundings. Labrador hosts a variety of events/and festivals throughout the year celebrating the land and culture. Some examples include the Bakeapple festival, the biennial Cain’s Quest, Labrador West and Happy Valley-Goose Bay Regattas, the Labrador Winter Games, North West River Beach Festival, Tikigiaksaugusik Festival, the Great Labrador Canoe Race (returning in 2019), the Great Labrador Loppet, and the Labrador Creative Arts Festival. One event held in Happy Valley-Goose Bay reinforces this connection to land and culture through the celebration of the rich history of trapping. The Trapline Marathon sees runners travel from North West River to Happy Valley-Goose Bay each Thanksgiving weekend. Traditionally this was the time of year that many trappers left their home to move inland to tend their traplines. In 2017 the race celebrated its 10th anniversary. Events such as these bring the community together, promote health and well-being and honour the history of this beautiful big land.


Special thanks to Janet Bellefleur, Kathleen Benuen, Tina Buckle, Michele Wood, Michelle Kinney, Darlene Wall & Kelly Broomfield for reviewing.

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