First Nations Health Directors Association


BC Health Directors Reflect on Building Healthy Communities

October 24th, 2019

‘Healthy is the New Wealthy’ theme grounds 2019 AGM and Conference

Health Directors from First Nation communities across BC gathered for their Annual General Meeting (AGM) which was held on the traditional territory of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc at Skwelkwek’welt at Sun Peaks Resort from September 25-27, 2019. The First Nations Health Directors Association’s (FNHDA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Conference welcomed 78 individual members from across BC.

FNHDA Board Vice-President Keith Marshall and President Charles Nelson (l-r)

“Healthy is the New Wealthy” was the theme of the 2019 AGM and Conference – an expression connected to the FNHDA’s mandate that celebrates mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health as more valuable than material wealth. As the FNHDA Board shared with its members:  “We know that self-determination and increased decision-making power over our own health and the health of our communities leads to better health outcomes. When we invest in our health, we have more options available to ourselves.” Said FNHDA President Charles Nelson, “… when you think about it, community-building is really Nation-building.”

The agenda included plenary presentations, small-group breakout sessions on specific health issues, professional development opportunities and an array of wellness activities. Attendees chose from sessions across four streams: training, informational, Head to Heart and Mentorship.

Cultural performers Sage Hills at FNHDA AGM 2019
Interpretive storyteller Kenthen Thomas performs at FNHDA AGM 2019

Cultural elements were woven throughout the event to take care of hearts, minds and spirits. Health Directors were treated to a variety of wellness services, cultural supports by the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, interpretive storytelling with Kenthen Thomas, and a cultural performance by Sage Hills.

Ceremony to welcome new FNHDA Board members

FNHDA board members described the AGM and Conference as “an annual celebration of our incredible community of Health Directors and Managers working in First Nations health in BC.” The Board thanks the Health Director members who were able to attend and participate – noting that 40 new members had joined the Association since the 2018 AGM.

FNHDA members “walk the walk”, from l-r, Angie Prince (Northern), Lisa Noel (Fraser Salish), Lisa McColl (Interior)

Day 1 opened with prayers from Elder Julianne Alexander of Secwepemc Nation, and Elder Virginia Peters of Sts’ailes who serves as interim Elder Advisor and Knowledge Keeper for the FNHDA. Following welcoming remarks from FNHDA President, Charles Nelson, FNHA Chief Operating Officer Richard Jock provided health delivery updates, including the recent launch of expanded benefit coverage with Pacific Blue Cross and reporting models based on strength-based indicators that reflect Indigenous cultural models alongside Western medical models. Mr. Jock shared progress on development of a joint FNHA-FNHDA ‘Learning Centre,’ including a commitment for two staff including a Director/Registrar and Coordinator to advance development of this important initiative.

Richard Jock providing an FNHA update to AGM attendees

Keynote presentations covered such issues as cardiovascular health, Indigenous health and mental health and wellness. Dr. Jeff Reading, FNHA Chair in Heart Health & Wellness at St. Paul’s Hospital presented on Indigenous health research, the intergenerational impacts of diabetes and food as medicine. Dr. Nadine Caron, Associate Professor for UBC’s Northern Medical Program, spoke from the perspective of a First Nations Endocrine surgeon as she explored the topic of “reinterpreting a crisis.’ FNHA Mental Health & Wellness Advisor Duanna Johnston-Virgo from the Interior Region discussed resilience and pathways to optimal health.

The Conference content streams gave attendees multiple options for learning and sharing:

  • Training included sessions on Health Service Delivery Law by the FNHA’s Max Dokuchie and Grant Christoff; Keynote speaker Dr. Jeff Reading spoke about the power of traditional foods in diabetes prevention; and Dr. Patricia Vickers, Director of FNHA’s Mental Wellness Clinical Services sharing knowledge about regulating emotions, boundary setting and soul retrieval.
  • Mentorship sessions included exploration of connections to the land and revitalizing relationships from Annie Williams, Health Director from the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation; a discussion about living with depression and using cultural strengths by Zachary George from Tsleil-Waututh Nation as well as sessions on mitigating the effects of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue and the FNHDA mentorship program offering.
  • Informational programming featured Health Director Planning & Reporting Champions on transformation of community wellness reporting; support for Health Directors on developing of Statements of Readiness; and community success stories and wise practices for cannabis and harm reduction.
  • FNHDA’s lateral kindness program for Health Directors Head to Heart was highlighted through sessions on the partnership between Nurses and Health Directors; the use of emotional freedom technique to alleviate physical pain and emotional distress; and creating art while engaging in conversation about wellness of mind, body and spirit.

The Inspiration Awards Gala and Ceremony honoured seven Health Directors nominated by their peers and communities for their contributions to First Nations health and wellness. Recipients of the 2019 Inspiration Awards include:

  • Joanne Charles, Health Lead, Semiahmoo First Nation for “Providing Informed, Technical Advice”
  • Heather Hastings, Health Manager, Tsartlip First Nation for “Providing Effective Health Administration
  • Desira John, Health Director, Little Shuswap Lake Band for “Participating Actively in Professional Development and Continuous Learning
  • Erica Marsden, Health Director, Gitanyow for “Grounding Work within Culture and Tradition”
  • Phyllis Peters, Health Director, Tsal’alh – Rose Casper Healing Centre for “Establishing and Maintaining Beneficial Partnerships
  • Vanessa Thevarge, Health Director, Bonaparte Indian Band for “Providing Health and Wellness Leadership for the Community”
  • Dean Wilson, Health Director, Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’wx First Nations for “Being a Supportive Manager and a Health Team Leader

The Years of Service Celebration recognized the Health Directors who have been dedicated to their communities and health champion roles and reached the years of service milestones from one to 25+ years. Attendees were treated to a swag bag of cultural goodies prepared by members of the Xaxli’p First Nation. A performance by Saulteaux recording artist Fara Palmer and SisterClan closed out the evening.

Recognition of outgoing FNHDA Board members, from l-r, Jackie McPherson, Kim Brooks, Franny Alec, Lauren Brown, AGM 2019

The third and final day covered official AGM business: the FNHDA Board presented the 2018-2019 FNHDA Annual Report to Members, announced results of the regional elections, welcomed three new Directors, and held an Oath of Office ceremony. The event concluded with the FNHDA Board presenting drums as a cultural offering to all Health Directors, sharing cultural teachings and singing the “Woman’s Warrior Song.”

The next 2020 Annual General Meeting will be held on Vancouver Island – for more information on FNHDA initiatives and news, visit

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