After six months of consultations, over a dozen priorities aimed at strengthening health and wellness in Kahnawake have now been identified. Family wellness and preservation, addictions and substance abuse, violence, and language and culture were among the top concerns raised in the community.
The consultations with healthcare and social services organizations, advocacy groups in Kahnawake, as well as the community at large were carried out to inform health and wellness priorities for the next 10 years. Those participating were asked to share what health and wellness means to them, what they believe to be the root cause of issues such as chronic illness and burnout, and the actions needed in response.
“It’s been about six months of really intense engagement across the community. It’s probably been one of the most extensive engagements that’s ever happened for our community,” said Ali Shukor, who led the team behind the creation of Kahnawake’s newest wellness plan.
Its preliminary findings were presented this Wednesday at the Royal Canadian Legion Mohawk Branch 219 – with the final report expected this coming March. It’ll be published by Onkwata’takritáhtshera, the agency also behind the previous 10-year health plan spanning 2012 to 2022.
It brings together Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS), Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC), the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), as well as the Kahnawake Fire Brigade (KFB).
The results of the final report in March will also help direct the next community health portrait to be published by Onkwata’takritáhtshera in coming years, said Dr. Colleen Fuller, Onkwata’takritáhtshera’s public health officer. It’s a report that sums up a wide range of health and demographic statistics across Kahnawake, with the most recent one published this summer.
“It’ll help us decide where to fill in those data gaps, what the priority is,” she said.
Some of the organizations consulted for the new wellness plan also included Step by Step Child and Family Center and Connecting Horizons, which supports those with special needs and their families.
“This community wellness plan plays an important role to help us to plan our work in health and social services,” said Vivienne Walz, who spoke Wednesday on behalf of Onkwata’takritáhtshera. “And then to measure the impacts to be able to course correct and see our successes.”
Environment, land and food sovereignty, intergenerational trauma, and public safety were also identified as the major issues facing the community.
“The trauma one was enormous, and it kept coming up in interviews and focus groups,” said Shukor as he spoke to dozens there on Wednesday. He’s also the executive director of Healthcare Evaluation Studio, the organization that was contracted to carry out the consultations and write the plan.
“Violence came up over and over. This is very tied to trauma. Trauma is the deeper root, and violence is the manifestation.”
Another recurrent topic of discussion was smartphones and the impact of extended screentime, especially for young children and teens, said Nicole Shea, also part of the team with Healthcare Evaluation Studio.
“I think every single focus group and interview mentioned social media and technology and its negative implications and impact on health,” Shea said.
Like the former wellness plan, mental illness, chronic illnesses, and diseases were also high on the priority list. But unlike the former 10-year plan, Shukor told The Eastern Door, this one takes a more holistic approach to health, considering the social determinants of health and wellness, such as housing and engagement with culture.
“It’s not that we’re not finding that clinical conditions are important. Diabetes, obesity, and cancer are obviously all important. But we need to frame it through a different lens, we need to tackle the root causes,” he explained.
“It really gives all members of the community an approach to address these high priority issues over the next 10 years.”
Another presentation by their team will also be held on December 8, with the time and place expected to be revealed soon. That meeting will be more feedback-based, Shukor told the crowd, providing a means for anyone who wants to get involved with implementing solutions related to the wellness priorities identified to come and connect with each other.
This article was originally published in print on Friday, November 24, in issue 32.47 of The Eastern Door.