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First Indigenous family health clinic opens in Montreal

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Montreal's first family health clinic adapted to Indigenous people's needs officially opened its doors on Friday morning.

The Native Montreal Family Clinic project, which was launched in 2021, is being led by Native Montréal to ensure the deployment and sustainability of health and social services adapted to the identity and specific needs of the Indigenous clientele in the metropolitan area.

Health Minister Christian Dubé made the announcement on Friday alongside the Minister responsible for Relations with First Nations and Inuit, Ian Lafrenière.

Dubé said he was delighted that the new clinic would promote the local aspect of primary care.

"We don't ask people who come to the clinic if they are registered with a family doctor or if they have called 811. We say, 'What do you need?' and, depending on your needs, we'll help you find the right person.

"We're currently reviewing this concept of front-line proximity. (...) The example of the clinic is part of this vision," said Dubé.

The aim of the clinic is to improve access to front-line services that are "culturally safe for Montreal's urban Indigenous population and complement existing public services."

Social workers, known as navigators, will ensure that the Indigenous person has received an appropriate service according to his or her needs, a bit like an after-sales service," said Dubé.

There are more than 35,000 people of Indigenous origin in the Greater Montreal area, including 13,000 on the island. It is one of the largest urban Indigenous communities in Quebec.

"More than half of First Nations and Inuit people don't live in communities, they live in urban areas," said Lafrenière. "That's why the clinic we're announcing today makes so much sense. In Montreal, thousands of people live there, gravitate there, and are just passing through. We need culturally adapted services. That means having navigators, making them feel welcome, and ensuring that the system meets their needs rather than their needs meeting the system's needs."

The Montreal care space joins seven other culturally safe health clinics already in place across the province. Other projects of this type are already in the pipeline, and announcements could be made soon, Lafrenière said.

The Montreal health clinic will offer a range of front-line services, with a particular focus on prevention.

The health professionals who will work there are trained in the realities and needs of Indigenous communities.

"We hope to be able to train Indigenous medical staff. We can become a gateway for internships or different levels of involvement as well as other non-Indigenous practitioners who want to find out how to do their practice better," said Native Montreal executive director Philippe Meilleur.

During his speech, Meilleur pointed out that "for too long" the Indigenous community had been confronted with experiences of discrimination and racism.

"This neglect has led to inhumane situations such as what Joyce Echaquan experienced in her final minutes," he said. "These collective and inter-generational traumas have created a gulf of mistrust that too often leads our people to avoid traditional care structures."

He stressed the importance of a project like the new Indigenous health clinic, which will help to reverse the negative impacts experienced by generations.

"Member-patients" will be able to be followed by a medical team made up of family doctors and nurses from the Clinique universitaire de médecine de famille (GMF-U) in Verdun.

The clinic's premises, located on Saint-Jacques Street, comprise two examination rooms and three multi-purpose rooms that can be used for different types of consultation.

The centrepiece of this unique facility, called the "cedar room," is made up of several armchairs with wooden walls. It will be used, among other things, by people from Indigenous communities who wish to be accompanied by a knowledge keeper.

The cedar room at the Native Montreal Family Clinic. (CTV News)

It will also be used for a number of ceremonies and traditional wellness practices - a special ventilation system has been installed.

Meilleur also said that he has begun canvassing with the DPJ to have the clinic recognised under the Youth Protection Act.

"We want to ensure that the children's culture and the family's well-being are protected," said Meilleur.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 12, 2024.

The Canadian Press health content receives funding through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association.The Canadian Press is solely responsible for editorial choices. 

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