Chapter 7 Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples and Health: The Perpetuation of Inequalities
Introduction: Who Are the Aboriginal Canadians?
Aboriginal peoples is a collective name for all the original peoples of North America and their
The Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 recognizes three distinct groups of Aboriginal people: Indians
(today commonly referred to as First Nations), Métis and Inuit.
Métis are persons of mixed Aboriginal and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis.
There is an important distinction between ‘status’ and ‘non-status’ Indians.
Status Indians are those who are recognized as Indians under the Indian Act and are entitled to certain
rights and benefits under the law.
Non-status Indians are those who consider themselves Indians or members of a first Nation but are not
entitled to be registered under the Indian Act, perhaps because their ancestors were never registered or
because they lost their status under former provisions of the Indian Act.
Evidence of Health Inequality
To understand why health inequalities persist for aboriginal peoples, then, we need to look at some of
the social determinants of health.
It is difficult to get and accurate and complete assessment of the health status of aboriginal peoples since
such information is not systematically collected for all three aboriginal groups.
o This is due I part to ‘the multi-jurisdictional complexity of health services to First Nations and
However, the data collected show that on virtually every known indicator of health status, the health of
aboriginal peoples is poorer in comparison to the rest of the Canadian population.
Overall the life expectancy of aboriginal peoples is estimated to be anywhere between five to fourteen
years less than that of non-aboriginal Canadians.
Although declining steadily, the infant mortality rate among aboriginal peoples are estimated to be
higher than the rate for the general population.
Infant mortality rates are an important measure of the well being of infants, children, and pregnant
women because they are associated with a variety of factors, such as maternal health, quality, and access
to medical care, and socio-economic conditions.
Social Production of Aboriginal Ill Health
In 2002, 56.9 per cent of First nation adults 20years and older, smoked, a rate that is double the
The highest smoking rate of 72per cent of among Inuit.
In 2006, 31 per cent of Métis adults smoked.
Dr Jay Wortman, who is researching the health effects of diet in First Nations communities,
hypothesizes that the high prevalence of diabetes is the result of a shift from traditional aboriginal diets
based on wild regional foods, such as fish seafood, moose, elk, deer, and seasonal plants and berries, to
carbohydrate-laden diets of today.
Depression, suicide, injury, and poisoning are a major concern for aboriginal peoples.
Understanding the Health Inequalities
Various historical documents have confirmed that aboriginal peoples in Canada were in good health
upon the arrival of the Europeans. Rather, the European explorers were the ones more likely to be sick and aboriginal healers provided
those who were interested with herbal remedies and suggested unfamiliar cures.
Using the Social Determinants of Health
Today, a social determinants of health approach guides both the implementation of public health
policy and much of the research on how it is that social determinants influence health.
Dr David Butler-Jones identified a number of socio-economic determinants of health in his 2008 Report
on the State of Public Health in Canada. The following socio-economic determinants of health were
o Employment, and working conditions
o Food security
o Environment and housing
o Early childhood development
o Education and literacy
o Social support and connectedness
o Health behaviours
o Access to health care.
On ever above-mentioned social determinant, Aboriginal peoples are at a disadvantages.