CEO blog: Lynnette Lucas at Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council
This article is part of a monthly blog series where Children’s Health Foundation’s CEO Veronica sits down with stakeholders and community leaders to gain insight into the challenges Island families face today and to shed light on the great work being done in the community.
In honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day, Veronica wanted to highlight important work being done to support the health care of Indigenous children and youth, and to learn more about the continued care needed in First Nations communities on the Island. She reached out to Lynnette Lucas from Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) in Port Alberni, a not-for-profit society that provides a wide variety of services and supports to 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations across the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Lynnette currently works as Director of Health at NTC, where she oversees several programs such as Child and Youth Services (Infant Development, Supported Child Development, Maternal Child Health), Nursing, Mental Health and Health Benefits. Lynnette has spent the majority of her career at NTC, having worked there for 17 years in a variety of roles.
You’ve been at NTC for 17 years, can you describe how you got involved with the organization?
I’ve actually been employed with NTC for most of my career. After completing my education at the University of Victoria, I worked for two years as a Child and Youth Counsellor with the Port Alberni Friendship Center. I then started at NTC, first working as an education worker for high risk youth. I was the Manager for Child and Youth Services for six years before recently taking on the role of Director of Health.
17 years is a long time! What is it about NTC as an organization that has encouraged you to stay with it?
There’s a lot of opportunity here! Because NTC is such a diverse organization, there are so many opportunities to learn and adjust your career path. The organization is very supportive when it comes to giving you the chance to work on projects that might go outside the scope of what your role usually consists of. For example, I’ve recently had the opportunity to be involved on a project involving research ethics in Indigenous communities. Having these kinds of opportunities to expand my horizons is something that I truly value about working at NTC. On top of that, it’s also the people I get to work with. I get to come to work every day and do something I love alongside people who are passionate about improving the health and wellness of our community.
What inspired you to get involved with children’s health care on the Island?
I would say being a part of community where there are gaps in services. I am Nuu-chah-nulth and I had always envisioned using my education to help support Nuu-chah-nulth communities in achieving higher level health and wellness. At the time I started my role in the Child and Youth Services department at NTC, I had just adopted a child out of foster care and was learning firsthand how to navigate the system in a much different way than when I had raised my other children who didn’t require any additional services. I considered myself to be someone with relatively high capacity and some good connections and even for me it was difficult at times to find the services my child required. This experience helped me realize that if we could build some of those connections right within our program at NTC, we could really help close the gap between parents with children with high level needs and the resources and supports that are available to them.
Can you tell us a little more about NTC as an organization? How do you explain it to someone who isn’t familiar with its work?
We’re an organization that provides services to our 14 Nuu-chah-nulth communities that are located along the west coast of Vancouver Island. Many of our communities are geographically isolated, with some only accessible by gravel road or by boat or float plane. The services we provide these communities have grown over the years as we’ve slowly negotiated and lobbied with the government to recognize the barriers these people face when it comes to accessing health care services. At NTC, we’re actively working to develop and maintain community programs that will allow our members, no matter where they are located, to receive the support and resources required to live a full and healthy life.
It says on NTC’s website that “NTC is able to adapt programs and services traditionally delivered by the government so they better meet the unique needs of the people NTC serves”. Can you tell us a bit more about these unique needs and how NTC has tailored its services to fulfill them?
I’d say location of services would be one of the ways we provide a unique service. Our communities are remote and so access to services that most other people have is not available. People often have to travel for a full day or two in order to see a physician or other professional service provider. That’s why we’ve made it our goal to meet our clients where they are. Our service providers go in to the communities on a regular scheduled basis to help develop ongoing trusting relationships with clients. Travel is built in to the program and is an integral part of meeting our communities’ needs. We also provide services that are culturally based and involve community elders. Whether it’s people who can provide information on different crafts, storytelling or language, we do what can to make sure we are offering a family-centered practice.
When it comes to health care among First Nations communities, what are some of the most important things you’d like service providers to know?
I think it’s important for people working with First Nations communities to make themselves available to people in the community and start off with establishing a level of trust. With the history of trauma and abuse from things like residential schools and Indian hospitals, First Nations communities need to feel safe and secure when they opt to receive health care services. It is important to be willing to invest time in the process of developing good working relationships and understand that generations of systemic racism have contributed to peoples’ fear and distrust of the medical system. Try not to take it personally, and instead appreciate their position and the need to meet people where they are and on their terms and at the pace they are willing to move.
For more information on Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) and its programs, visit nuuchalnulth.org