Aboriginal-led studies looking at health issues largely ignored
The headline read: "Poverty, chronic disease plague city's aboriginals." It was in large print on the front page of the Spectator July 10. I was surprised to see such a headline, as I find that aboriginal issues rarely see the headlines or the front page, unless the aboriginals are putting up a roadblock somewhere or are connected to other types of disobedience. But the headline led me to write about this issue.
The government of Canada has controlled health-care services for its aboriginal people since the enactment of the Indian Act in 1876. It may have used various methods, but overall the government has been in control. As for the first "report of its kind to study health data of urban First Nations population in Canada," this is an understatement as to the reality of aboriginal people being studied through history. It is just one report that had its findings approved by the (online research journal) BMJ Open, which now makes it credible. My comments are not to belittle the importance of the recognition of this document, but to criticize the lack of recognition given to the many reports and studies that have been done on aboriginal people in the past 30 years or more. An example such as Our Health Counts, which is the basis of the information that is being commented on, was an aboriginal-led initiative that included a wholistic approach to the investigation about aboriginal health issues. This document was released in 2011, but there was no great recognition for it at that time.
Even though aboriginal people have been the main focus of various studies, it astonishes me as to the lack of followup on the recommendations some of these studies and/or reports have provided. The issue of aboriginal homelessness, poverty and/or health are all related and that is based on the historical facts of how aboriginal people have been treated over the years. They have been the victims of colonization and de-culturalization leaving them as broken people within their own homeland.
The Canadian government continued to play a major role in aboriginal health determent when it terminated the funding to institutions such as the National Aboriginal Health Organization, the First Nations Statistical Institute and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, just to name a few. The Canadian government does not admit that "health" is an aboriginal and treaty right.
This brings me to another point, the urban aboriginal population is the fastest growing population in Canada and if "positive" influences do not come into play soon, we will have an even bigger problem in the future. That could mean more requirements for health care and a greater strain on social services. If the Canadian government thinks it is saving money by making cuts to both support and resource services that are aboriginal-specific, it will be greatly mistaken. In the long run, it could cost the Canadian government even more if it does not deal with this situation now.
Poverty and lack of housing play a major role in aboriginal health. Without the basic elements of life, we know that people's health will suffer. Many reports and literature now recognize the need for aboriginal-specific programming that is aboriginal-directed. We need to recognize the importance of culturally appropriate services, and this may mean incorporating language, traditional healers and healing practices, ceremonies and community elders into those services. We also need recognition that we are still faced with extreme trauma due to the effects of residential schools and the ways in which colonialism has played a negative part in aboriginal history.
It is my hope that as a society, we begin to realize that in order for positive change to happen as it relates to health, poverty and homelessness, our attitudes must change about aboriginal people. Society needs to understand why aboriginal people are in this situation, it needs to learn about true aboriginal history and the shame Canada bears in relation to past mistreatment and the continuous lack of care provided.
Cultural consideration should be officially recognized as a unique need of Canada's First People. It is also important to recognize that our reports and studies should have just as much credence as those conducted by nonaboriginals and be officially recognized by mainstream media.
Yvonne Maracle works as the Housing First Team Aboriginal co-ordinator with the Social Planning and Research Council and is a speaker for Speak Now Hamilton.