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New wellness plan seeks holistic approach 

Last June community members were invited by Onkwata’karitáhtshera to learn about their plans for the 2024-2032 community wellness plan. Courtesy KahnawakeTV

Onkwata’karitáhtshera, Kahnawake’s health and social services agency, has released a new community wellness plan that sets the community’s priorities for the next eight years. The 2024-2032 plan has identified 11 different domains to focus on, with culture, language, and child and family wellness among the priorities identified.  

Vivienne Walz, Onkwata’karitáhtshera’s liaison for the plan, said unlike the previous plan from 2012-2022, this one takes a more holistic approach to health. Rather than primarily focusing on healthcare services, it looks to strengthen social services just as much, she said. 

“The framework for the plan reflects social determinants of health and it also explicitly has tsi niionkwarihò:ten and Kanien’kéha, culture and language, at its centre,” she explained. “Culture and language are a domain as well as a foundational principle that guide the way that all the other domains are to be supported and acted upon.” 

Onkwata’karitáhtshera developed the plan following six months of consultation with healthcare, social services organizations, and advocacy groups in Kahnawake, as well as the community at large.  

The health and social services agency that created the eight-year plan also includes representation from Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS), Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC), the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK), and the Kahnawake Fire Brigade (KFB).  

Mental and emotional wellness, substance misuse and behavioural addictions, cancer prevention and support, the prevention of chronic illness and disease through healthy living, and addressing violence are also among the 11 domains identified in the wellness plan. Land and food sovereignty, trauma, resilience, healing and empowerment, the special needs and caregiver community, and housing, poverty and income insecurity are also included in wellness plan’s priorities. 

“Our next step will be to create action plans within each of the domains,” said Derek Montour, Onkwata’karitáhtshera’s chairperson, also the executive director of KSCS.  

Community organizations, health and social services agencies in Kahnawake, and community members will all get a chance to sit on working groups dedicated to each of the 11 domains, he said. 

“The idea is to improve collaboration and how we’re working together, so that we’re not siloed,” Montour said. “Onkwata’karitáhtshera’s role is to address global health issues within the community, and the wellness plan is bigger than any one organization’s responsibility.” 

For the KSCS, that means making sure it’s allocating its funding to groups and projects that directly align with the goals set out in the 2024-2032 wellness plan, he said, mentioning the missions of the Kahnawake Youth Center (KYC) and Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR) as some examples.  

Since Kahnawake’s first health plan came out in 1998, the KMHC has been using the priorities identified in them to guide strategic planning at the hospital, said Valerie Diabo, executive director there.  

“The hospital has been involved since day one. It helps us look at our services and where we need to improve,” said Diabo, also Onkwata’karitáhtshera’s vice-chairperson. 

The addition of wellness nurses at the hospital two years ago is one thing that came directly out of discussions spurred by the last health plan, she said. The hospital currently employs three that work out of its out-patient department.  

“The focus isn’t only on the chronic illness itself, but how we can have (our patients) living a healthier lifestyle that’s meaningful to them,” said Robin Guyer, director of nursing and community care at the hospital. Guyer also serves as a secretary for Onkwata’karitáhtshera.  

The hospital’s long-term planning toward increasing accessibility to family doctors and upping the number of beds available in their long-term care department are all goals that factor into the new wellness plan, Guyer said. 

The new plan also sets out a framework for how the hospital can better collaborate with social services and community groups to better service the needs of the community, Diabo said. 

Events will be hosted this summer by Onkwata’karitáhtshera so community members can learn more about the plan and how they can personally get involved in its working groups, Walz said. 

“It’s a living document and a living framework,” she emphasized. “The plan is a starting point to be able to then come together and set goals.” 

At the four-year mark, the wellness plan will also go through an evaluation process from an outside consultant to analyze the extent to which it has been successful, Walz said, so those involved can remain accountable to the community.  

The 2024-2032 community wellness plan, which is over 500 pages long, is public and can be found on Onkwata’karitáhtshera’s website, Onkwa.org.  


This article was originally published in print on May 10 in issue 33.19 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.