Health Problems for Canada’s Aboriginal People

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ONTARIO, Canada — According to a new study, the urban native population of Hamilton lives in poverty, with a disproportionately high number of them facing chronic diseases, and frequent visits to the hospital and the emergency room. The current state of Canada’s aboriginal people is shocking health experts and aboriginal health advocates.

The people who were interviewed for the study stated that they experienced more cases of arthritis, hypertension, asthma and diabetes. Also, 10.6 percent of those involved in the study reported that they had made over six visits to the emergency room in the past two years—a statistic that only 1.6 percent of other Hamilton residents could claim.

In the study, 78 percent of those interviewed stated that they earned less than $20,000 a year, and 70 percent stated that they lived in the city’s lowest income neighborhoods. Only 3 percent stated that they fell in the highest income range, a range that applies to 15 percent of Hamilton residents and 20 percent of Ontarian citizens.

“It’s quite surprising that while over 60 percent of aboriginals in Ontario live in urban centers, we don’t have access to health data sets,” said Michelle Firestone, a research associate for St. Michaels. She went on to note that the lack of data is largely in part of how the health care data is collected.

When aboriginal people go to the hospital and fill out the paperwork, there is no option for them to identify as aboriginal on the form, therefore preventing them from being referred to aboriginal services. According to Banielle Boissoneau, an aboriginal resident of Hamilton, there are two aspects that contribute to the growing gap for native people in the health care system—fear and stigma.

In other regions of Canada, aboriginal people are facing other problems. Around 1,200 aboriginal women have been reported missing since 1952, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). One in five aboriginal Canadians live in housing which is often described as ‘dilapidated’ and ‘overcrowded’. A study by the United Nations reports that the suicide rate among First Nations children who live on reservations is five times the rate of other Canadian children.

“This government only turns to First Nations leaders, elected under the Indian act, when there’s a need for validation or for a photo op,” said Jonathan Genest-Jourdian, a member of Canada’s House of Commons. “There’s only a few token First Nations leaders left who are willing to stand with this government and its policies. What we are witnessing on Parliament Hill are the first signs of an uprising of the first nation’s citizens. I’ve seen so many demonstrations, gatherings and protests led by aboriginals over the past three years on Parliament Hill that I lost count.”

One of the movements was Idle No More, a movement in response to Bill C-45, an act that significantly eliminated a majority of the Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1882. The act guaranteed an approval process before industrial development could begin near national waterways, while the new act limited the approval process, leaving a large number of waterways vulnerable to industrial development.

Monica Newell

Sources: CBC, VICE News, Metro
Photo: Nova Scotia

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Monica Newell

Monica is a BORGEN Magazine writer based in Midlothian, Virginia.

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