Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you to my colleagues for giving me a bit of time.
Kwe Kwe. Tansi.Unnusakkut. Good morning.
I, too, am on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people today, but from the traditional Robinson-Superior Treaty area, and I'm very happy to be here.
I think that, first of all, in this conversation it's our duty for all of us to acknowledge that colonization, through displacement, discrimination and systemic racism, has caused immense intergenerational trauma for indigenous peoples and has perpetuated inequities in the determinants of health and well-being.
In line with Canada’s commitments under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action, addressing health inequities is a key priority for Indigenous Services Canada.
To “reconcile” means that we must move forward on, importantly, equality, truth and self-determination, and on services that are designed by and for indigenous peoples, with sufficient funding and supports in place for people to access them. We need to do better, because health care is a right for all Canadians.
We recognize the strength of indigenous peoples, families, youth and communities who have been pushing governments to find a holistic, distinctions-based approach that will improve access and culturally relevant, trauma-informed and community-based services. We know that there is still much work to do together. The federal government cannot act alone in implementing all the changes necessary. Through conversations with indigenous partners and the provinces and territories, however, we can chart a path forward to better serve indigenous, Inuit and Métis communities across the country.
The non-insured health benefits program administered by Indigenous Services Canada is one area where considerable work has been done to address these inequities. The program provides first nations and Inuit with health benefits that are not covered by provinces and territories, including things like prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, dental and vision care, medical supports and equipment, mental health counselling and transportation to access health care services that are not available locally, regardless of where clients live in Canada. These benefits are different from other private or public health insurance programs because they're not income-tested and there are no copayments or deductibles.
The NIHB pharmacy benefit is one of the largest publicly funded drug plans in the country, and it's guided by three expert advisory committees of highly qualified health professionals who provide impartial and practical expert medical advice.
In partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, we're working to review the NIHB program. It provided partners an opportunity to identify and address gaps in benefits and streamline service delivery to be more responsive to client needs, and this collaborative work has resulted in tangible changes, such as additional supports for expectant mothers so that they don't have to travel alone if they need to travel outside of their communities to deliver their babies.
The NIHB program also engages regularly with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami to discuss Inuit-specific issues.
With the signing of the 2017 Canada-Métis Nation Accord, we have begun to transfer funding for distinctions-based, Métis-specific programming to Métis governments.
As someone who has worked on the issue of mental health and substance use for over two decades, and as someone who regularly hears stories from communities each time I'm on tour, I'm also acutely aware that there is no one single approach or program that will address the varied, complex and interconnected drivers of mental wellness.
The department works closely with first nations, Inuit and Métis partners to improve service delivery, which means supporting increased access to quality, culturally grounded wraparound care, such as Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s choose life program. It means making sure that federally funded programs provide flexible supports to organizations that support people to stay connected to their culture, traditional healing and traditional ways of being. For example, under our government, for the first time, coverage is provided for traditional healer services in support of mental wellness.
We've made significant recent investments to improve mental wellness in indigenous communities, to a total of about $645 million in 2020-21. Budget 2022 proposes to commit an additional $227.6 million over two years for trauma-informed, culturally appropriate and indigenous-led services to improve mental wellness.
These investments included a renewal of essential services, such as crisis lines and mental health and cultural and emotional support to former Indian residential schools and federal day school students and their families, as well as those affected by the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Medical transportation is also essential for rural and isolated communities. While provinces and territories manage the delivery of physician and hospital care, we know that this is not always possible. In 2020 and 2021, NIHB invested $525.7 million in medical transportation. This is about 35.3% of the total NIHB expenditures. This, along with other prenatal supports, ensures that families get the support where they need it.
The NIHB dental program is also universal. That means it covers all eligible first nations and Inuit individuals regardless of age, income or other measures of socio-economic need. Again, recipients don't need to pay deductibles or copayments and have no annual maximum.
In 2016, NIHB established an external advisory committee to support the improvement of oral health outcomes, and we are committed to working with other partners to take best practices as we look to explore dental coverage for all Canadians.
Mental wellness, medical transportation and dental are just three examples of the comprehensive supports provided through NIHB. There is much more work to do, and I'm committed to working together with indigenous leaders and communities to improve services.
I am very pleased that I have Valerie Gideon, the associate deputy minister, and Scott Doidge, director general, non-insured health benefits, in the room with me. As well, Dr. Evan Adams, deputy chief medical officer of public health, whom you heard from earlier this week, and Keith Conn, assistant deputy minister, first nations and Inuit health branch, are on video. They will help me in responding to your questions.
Meegwetch. Nakurmiik. Marci. Thank you.