Minister Glen Abernethy’s Opening Address at the Pan-Territorial On-the-Land Summit Gala Dinner, March 15, 2017
Hon. Glen Abernethy, Minister of Health and Social Services for the Government of the Northwest Territories:
It is a pleasure to welcome you here tonight.
This week, experts working in land-based programming from Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories have gathered in Dettah to build connections, learn from each other, and explore the themes of Healing, Culture, Guardianship, Evaluation, and Collaboration.
I hope that your gathering is going well, and that you are finding this opportunity to be together valuable and informative.
Tonight is an opportunity to celebrate the important work that you are doing. We have some special guests in the room who I’d like to acknowledge: Michael McLeod, Member of Parliament for Northwest Territories; my colleague from the Legislative Assembly Caroline Cochrane, minister responsible for many things, including Status of Women, and MLA for Range Lake.
I also want to recognize the team from Health Canada that is in the room, led by Associate Deputy Minister Christine Donoghue. Health Canada’s support for this Summit made it possible for us to bring everyone together, so thank you for that.
I’ve been the Minister of Health and Social Services for just about three and a half years now. In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to every region of the NWT, and to almost every community.
I’ve spent lots of time talking to people about their priorities for health and wellness — what makes sense for their communities, what feels culturally appropriate, and what really makes a difference in their lives.
Everywhere I go, people tell me that they need more opportunities to get on the land. That the land is a teacher, and a healer.
I was born and raised in the North. I’ve technically spent my whole life in the NWT, but that’s only because my birth certificate says I was born in Frobisher Bay, Northwest Territories.
So, I have actually seen a lot of the land, living in what is now Nunavut as a kid and then growing up in Yellowknife. And in this job, of course, I’ve had opportunities to travel in all three territories. I don’t like to travel south too much but I take every opportunity to visit Northern communities.
Lots has changed over the years. Not just the border, or the names of the communities.
Not too long ago, it would have been unheard of for governments to be investing in land-based programming for health and wellness. In some respects, the North is leading the way on this front.
I have great respect for healthcare professionals. My wife and my mother are both nurses, and they’ve worked as community healthcare providers. Our healthcare system is essential to the wellbeing of our communities, and we need to continue to invest in it to provide the care and services that people deserve.
But true health and wellness extends far beyond the medical system. It begins with healthy people and communities, and for Northern people that begins with the land.
This is the wisdom of our communities. We hear it in every community meeting. Youth and Elders and elected leaders all tell us that connecting with culture on the land provides transformational experiences, and that government needs to prioritize finding ways to support that.
Evaluating land-based programs in a way that allows us to capture the true impacts is a challenge we are all facing, but we all have stories or personal experiences that tell us the land is transformational, the land is healing, and the land is our greatest teacher and resource.
We know this to be true. Our people have said it, and Elders have explained it. Now research and science are helping us to describe it, and prove it.
We are still learning how to do this. It’s not a simple thing, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for all of the unique programs that you are offering. But, working together, I think the experts in this room will be able to move towards some really creative, innovative approaches.
Tomorrow that hard work continues. Tonight is a chance to celebrate the land in a different way, by hearing reflections from a storyteller who has been all over this country hearing stories from the land, and by showcasing some cultural performers from the three territories.
I hope that you’ll find the evening inspiring, and that it will bring renewed energy for the final day of the Summit.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for the important work that you are doing, and for sharing that work with us.
Have a great night. ◉