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Health (18-24)

Dr. Rebekah Neckoway says a lack of basic necessities creates health problems for northern First Nations

April 9, 2024

APTN News: If you were to step on a nail while living in a city in Canada, you would most likely be able to get an X-ray and be able to see a doctor all in the same day.

But if the same thing happened to you living in a northern First Nation, you could end up needing to be airlifted out of the community just to access those same services.

“With lack of access to suitable health care or basic necessities like water or even WIFI, internet and things like that, it really creates a system that has caused a lot of health problems that we’re seeing today such as high rates of diabetes, mental health issues, addiction issues, things like that,” says Dr. Rebekah Neckoway on the latest edition of Face to Face.

In December 2023, Neckoway was announced as the inaugural chief medical officer for the Matawa Health Co-operative (MHC).

Established in 2017, the MHC provides healthcare services to achieve long-term health and well-being for all members within the nine Matawa First Nations in Ontario.

Five of those communities are only accessible by air or winter road.

Neckoway’s appointment marks the first time an Indigenous chief medical officer has been appointed in Ontario.

Neckoway says it’s an honour and a privilege and hopes the appointment will set a precedent for other provinces and territories.

But she add that she looks forward to the day when she is not the only Indigenous chief medical officer in Ontario.

From a young age, Neckoway says she always had her sights set on a career in medicine. She earned her nursing degree from Lakehead University and attended medical school at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

While in school, she remembers visiting her mom’s home community of Eabametoong First Nation in northern Ontario.

“This little kid came along and was kind of playing hide and go seek with me and his mom found him and said ‘oh you must be Charlotte’s daughter’ and I said ‘yes I am’ and she said ‘you’re becoming a doctor right’ and I told her I was and she looked at her child and said ‘this is your cousin, she’s becoming a doctor’ and that just meant so much to me.

“Growing up in Thunder Bay, I didn’t see myself in the physicians who treated me or even the nurses.

“I recognized I was becoming a role model that I wish I saw when I was a kid. So, I hope that providing the care that I do, it shows other teens, adolescents, youth, young adults, anyone really that we can do this type of work and we can care for our own people and hopefully do a more emphatic job providing that care.

“It’s no secret that historically, the medical system has done very egregious things against First Nations peoples and so I think there requires a lot of healing and the reconciliation piece of building that trust and building those bridges. I think if someone looks like you, is from your community or you at least know their cousin or their uncle it creates that familiarity.”

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