Confront indigenous health crisis: leaders
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Jan 15, 2016  |  Vote 1    0

Confront indigenous health crisis: leaders

OTTAWA — Aboriginal Peoples endure higher levels of tuberculosis, HIV and heart disease than the rest of Canada — a dramatic disparity that indigenous leaders want health ministers to confront on the road to meaningful reconciliation.

Isadore Day, Ontario regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations and head of the assembly's health committee, said First Nations, Inuit and Metis are facing a health crisis that demands to be confronted by all Canadians.

In a letter to federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, Day also emphasized the need for full participation in drafting a new health accord.

"I think it is really important for everyone to look at the truth," Day said in an interview.

"We are in the era of truth and reconciliation and I think that this is a major issue. If it wasn't for the Indian Act, if it wasn't for residential schools, if it wasn't for colonial policy, the health conditions of our people wouldn't be in this state."

Health Canada data shows a dramatic difference in life expectancy and rates of chronic and contagious diseases for aboriginal Canadians. Tuberculosis infection rates, for example, are five times higher among First Nations people and 50 times higher among the Inuit population than among the general population.

Health Canada also estimates there were 278 new HIV infections in the aboriginal population in 2014, representing 10.8 per cent of all new infections that year.

Philpott said there are a number of other worrying health indicators, such as suicide rates among Inuit youth.

"These are very serious concerns," she said in an interview.

"They are an absolute priority for me to address, but I can't do that alone because obviously provincial and territorial governments are also implicated in addressing some of these concerns. So we will be all talking together and seeing how we can make progress in terms of those gaps."

In his letter to Philpott, Day noted the minister is attuned to the First Nations health crisis "having spent so many years practising medicine in very similar, Third-World conditions of West Africa."

Aboriginal people often endure health conditions that people would not and should not expect to see in Canada, Philpott said.

"I think that you will find that they are, in some cases, comparable to the kind of levels you would see in less-resourced countries and that is not acceptable," she said.

"It is something we very much aim to address."

Indigenous leaders will be part of the talks on the health accord, Philpott added, though she did not have specifics on what shape this will take.

"I am in discussions with indigenous leaders across the country about the best way for us to all work together, provinces, territories, the federal government and indigenous leaders," she said.

Manitoba Health Minister Sharon Blady said she appreciates Philpott's openness to looking at how to include indigenous voices at the table.

"I really want to be able to see where the federal minister goes with this because I know how important it is for our people and to our provincial system here," Blady said.

"Our First Peoples live in conditions that are predicated on 150-plus years of unjust colonial practices that have had implications over generations and that puts an undue health burden on them ... it also puts a burden on the health-care system. It is an unfair burden ... they are carrying disproportionately."

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

By Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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(10) Comment

By Garry | JANUARY 15, 2016 05:46 PM
Canadians outside of Indian reserves pay taxes to municipal, provincial and federal governments to help fund medical care and many people outside of Indian reserves raise money privately to help pay for hospital wings, hospital equipment, etc. Maybe Indians on Indian reserves should try that and pay some taxes to their local band councils to help get better health care.
By Frederick | JANUARY 15, 2016 02:20 PM
I've no doubt that health care on remote reserves is not up to the standard we in larger communities can obtain from our Provincially run health care system, in smaller remote areas it's not nearly as good. First Nations seem unable to look after Health Care or much of anything themselves and want the rest of Canada to do it for them. Yet they want to be regarded as a separate 'Nation'. Seems contradictory. One bone of contention is the way Indian leaders portray their situation as being caused by colonial pressures. Perhaps they should take a look back at when they entered into agreements and what the state of their health and life expectancy was. There appears to be good bit of misrepresentation going on within their rhetoric.
By wayne | JANUARY 15, 2016 12:13 PM
They are free to become canadian citizens and get equal treatment (many have and live a normal life) Inuit never had a treaty, never ever claimed ownership of land in fact the only land they new for thousands of years was what they saw. Now they own everything. It is time to end special status. Everyone is equal, that is my canada. We get the same benefits and all work and pay our share
By wayne | JANUARY 15, 2016 12:13 PM
no one is mistreating our natives. They live in poverty out of choice. They chose not to be part of this country to live the life they always lived that is hunting and fishing and living in tepees and igloos. They no longer want to do that, they want to live the modern life but they don't want to pay taxes to do it so now they are pulling the card that says we were here first so you owe us rent now.
By DAVID | JANUARY 15, 2016 11:14 AM
I wonder if Day and the bunch want cheese with their whine. Oh yah, they'd want us to pay for that too.
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