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Achieving the Vision of a Healthy and Prosperous Community for the Aboriginal People

 

Prior to the colonization of Canada, Aboriginal people employed comprehensive health-knowledge systems and used it to maintain sound physical and mental health. The systems collapsed with the advent of Europeans in Canada, and has never fully recovered. First Nation people have the poorest health in Canada and have a lifespan 10 years shorter than that of Non-Aboriginal people. To ensure health equality among all Canadians we must bridge the rather wide gap that exists between the health of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the nation.

To achieve the vision of a healthy Aboriginal community, larger reforms in the status of the Aboriginal people are needed. This is because health disparities are the products of cultural, lack of services, systemic racism and socio-economic disparities. These disparities have been termed the “social determinants” of Aboriginal health and well-being, which provide some insight into the reasons for poor health in the community.

Let’s recap some of these social determinants: 

  • Lack of education – Aboriginal Canadians continue to lag behind the non-Aboriginal population significantly in educational qualifications. According to 2011 census, 37.96 percent of Aboriginal peoples aged 15 or more had no degree, diploma or certificate at all. At the higher end, only 2.1 percent received education at the post-graduate level.
  • Lack of a fixed source of income – Unemployment has historically been higher in the Aboriginal population, when compared to other Canadians. Unemployment among Aboriginal labour force (Aboriginal peoples aged 15 or more) reached 15 percent at the time of 2011 census. Further, Aboriginal participation was found to be the highest in industries like construction and manufacturing, which can be highly contractual in nature. Many First Nation communities have unemployment rates of higher than 70%, with the only employer often being the “band office”.
  • Lower wages – The troubles of the Aboriginal population doesn’t end with finding employment. Aboriginal workers are underpaid and have lower median income than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Results of the First Nations Regional Health Survey (2011) show that Aboriginal people were living with the same household income in 2010 as they were in 2003.
  • Poor living condition – The living conditions of Aboriginal people have been marred by overcrowding and/or poor physical condition of the house. According to the census of 2011, 108,955 of the total 626,380 Aboriginal homes were in need of major repairs. Further, 10 percent of these dwellings were deemed unsuitable for living. Add to this reality, that there are more First Nation people in Canada (by percentage) living on reserves under “bottle water advisories”, than the non-Aboriginal population.

Improving the health of the Aboriginal community

Improving their social determinants through health and vocational education, employment training and economic development is the key to improving the health of the Aboriginal people in Canada. Community-wide efforts to reduce discrimination, settle land cases, foster social inclusion and restore rights and powers to Aboriginal people are the need of the hour.

Individual health education and training programs need to be adapted to the Aboriginal culture for better effects. For instance, we know that the value of land, family and spirituality of Aboriginal communities need to be incorporated into federal or organizational health improvement programs to ensure Aboriginal adoption and participation in larger numbers.

Once Aboriginal people are convinced of the authenticity of the programs (they find reflections of their own believes and customs in the program and don’t consider it “Western” anymore) their distrust in help may begin to reduce. They may be not only more willing to participate actively, but also implement and sustain their own health systems and reach more members of the community, moving a step closer to achieving health equality. Until our Government  makes this a priority and leads the process by example, change is not likely to occur swiftly, and Aboriginal people will continue to suffer the results of poor health care.

GMG Consulting is a relationship-based company committed to building strength from within by working with aboriginal communities and organizations, as well as governments and resource-based industries, towards positive outcomes for aboriginal people through Economic Development, Health and Social Wellness, and Training. Contact us to find out more about our services and resources.

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