One of the reasons the federal government pulled funding for the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) was due to its "governance challenges," says Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
"Health Canada worked with NAHO in an attempt to resolve these issues but, unfortunately, they were not addressed," Aglukkaq said in a statement.
The statement went on to say how some organizations, such as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), withdrew support from NAHO.
CBC News learned last week the federal government plans to cut more than 800 positions at Health Canada. Despite those cuts, Aglukkaq’s office said it will protect frontline health care services and continue to make what it calls "major investments" in aboriginal health, nursing and research.
Bill Erasmus, who is the AFN’s representative for the Northwest Territories, said they passed a resolution a few years ago saying they wanted NAHO’s funding to go to communities.
He said the AFN eventually pulled its support for NAHO a few years ago over a disagreement in how NAHO was being run.
But Erasmus said he’s worried that the government has pulled the funding for the health research organization.
"I don't think the Canadian government understands the legal relationship and the contribution they have to make to that, in other words, they talk about having difficulty with covering health care – well, it’s a right. . . it’s in the treaties, it’s very specific that we get free health," he said.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which advocates for Inuit in Nunavut, issued a short statement about the cut Tuesday afternoon.
Mary Simon, the organization’s president, said they were involved with NAHO since its creation in 2000 and, in particular, the Inuit Tuttarvingat Centre section which dealt with Inuit health issues.
Simon said the loss of Inuit Tuttarvingat "creates a serious void in Inuit health research and support to address Inuit health issues," she said in a statement.
But Simon also noted that her organization encouraged NAHO to restructure to better reflect the distinct needs of Inuit.
Suicide researcher calls cut a "disgrace"
An Iqaluit-based suicide researcher, Jack Hicks, said he is shocked by the news.
"Just when you think you've heard it all, I did this huge double-take at my computer screen I simply couldn't believe it," he said. "Why would you pick on an organization which does such important work for the section of the Canadian population with by far the worst health indicators," he asked.
He said he relies on NAHO’s publications for his research. He is calling the cut a "disgrace".
"Perhaps Harper put her in there specifically to have an aboriginal person do the dirty work for him in the hopes that having an aboriginal minister of health would somehow dampen the criticism," said Hicks.
All of NAHO’s 31 employees will be let go by the end of June. The organization is also looking at partnering with a university or health research centre to preserve its research and documents.