Blog

Welcome to HC Link's blog! Our blog will provide you with useful information on healthy community topics, news, and resources, as well as information on HC Link’s events, activities, and resources. Our bloggers include HC Link staff and consultants, as well as our partnering organizations, clients, and experts in the health promotion field.

Please note: opinions in posts are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of HC Link or our funder.

We look forward to engaging in thought-provoking conversation with you!

To view past blogs, please click on the home icon below left.

Racism and Health Series - Indigenous Health

By Mica Pereira Bajard

When I moved to Canada from Bolivia—where the majority of the population is indigenous, and where racism is not a taboo topic—as a child, I would not have imagined that indigeneity and racism would become central topics of discussion and reflections in my Canadian professional and personal lives. At age 11, I never imagined the horrendous effects that colonialism had (and continues to have) on the lives of Indigenous peoples in this country. Canada, with its universal health care and polite population, seemed like the gold standard of ‘great’ countries.

Today, I understand that the health of Indigenous peoples in Canada (and abroad) is inextricably linked to the respect of human rights. First Nations (status and non-status), Métis and Inuit populations—the First Peoples of this country— make up less than five percent of the population in the land we call Canada, yet the country seems to be uninterested in protecting and promoting their health and their rights (Canada is one of four countries worldwide not to have adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). Canada’s governments have been stubborn bullies toward the people on whose lands Canada was ‘created.’

The flagrant health inequities that exist between indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada today are a manifestation of the effect that social and political factors can have on the health of populations.  Exploring the impact that Canadian policies have on these populations using a social determinants of health framework brings to light the implicit racism and colonialism embedded in the status quo of our country’s functioning. For example, rather than fostering indigenous self-determination, the federal government imposes its policies on which indigenous groups have access to health care through the Non-Insured Health Benefit program (only status First Nations and Inuit). The government’s refusal to launch a national inquiry on the missing and murdered indigenous women, despite indigenous women being five times more likely to be murdered than non-indigenous women, is another example of institutional racism that hinders the health of Indigenous peoples. I argue that if the missing and murdered aboriginal women were white women, the government would have a different reaction. A third and important example is the continuous institutionalization of indigenous children.  In 2008, Prime Minister Harper formally apologized on behalf of Canadians for the residential school system—which attempted to assimilate indigenous children by removing them from their households— and recognized that this system continues to have profound social effects on survivors and their communities. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to note that there are currently more children under state care today than at the peak of residential schools. Children are being removed from their homes, separated from their parents. How, and why, is Canada apologizing for something it is still committing? 

The above examples are only the tip of an iceberg of the impact that colonial, racist policies has on the lives of Indigenous peoples. Racism against Indigenous peoples underpins most, if not all, policies in Canada, resulting in poor health outcomes for First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups.  This is so much so that scholars Mikkonen and Raphael identified Aboriginal Status as one important social determinant of health in Canada. Compared to non-indigenous Canadians, Indigenous peoples have higher rates of infectious and chronic illnesses are more likely to live in crowded housing and have higher rates of food insecurity, among many other health outcomes. All of these outcomes are the result of racist, colonial tendencies in Canada’s way of governing. That the Public Health Agency of Canada does not recognize Aboriginal Status as a determinant of health is an example of institutional efforts to avoid explicitly acknowledging that we have a race problem.

The continuous dismissal and exclusion of indigenous knowledge and practices in policy and decision-making in Canada contributes to the systemic racism that harms the health of Canada’s first peoples. It is time to shift the governing power to the people whose lands we are on in order to best protect and promote their rights and health. The Canadian government’s lack of recognition that it is racist in its way of functioning is perhaps the greatest threat to the well-being of Indigenous peoples.

Despite all the challenges and issues that remain to be mitigated, there are important stakeholders and initiatives that are working towards creating a more just, inclusive, and respectful Canada. In particular, the 2015 First Peoples, Second Class Treatment Discussion Paper by Dr. Allan and Dr. Smylie offers avenues to change by recommending that the Canadian government embrace honest, transparent conversations about the implicit racism in policies across sectors (ranging from access to health care to education). They argue that better, more meaningful, data should be collected on the health status of Indigenous peoples in Canada to better explore the effects of racism, and that we invest in effective, anti-racist interventions to improve indigenous health. Additionally, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, which seeks to redress the legacy of residential schools and work towards reconciliation, asks that all levels of government: be transparent in their child welfare policies specific to Indigenous peoples; revise educational curriculums with Indigenous peoples; protect indigenous cultures and languages; improve health care for Indigenous peoples; and work towards the reversal of the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in prisons among other efforts for reconciliation. These calls to action also demand for more professional opportunities for Indigenous peoples in all sectors. Lastly, advocates such as Michèle Audette, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, who engage with decision-makers and community members are making progress towards the recognition of racism in Canada.

Join us on October 23rd and 24th, 2015 at the Racial Justice Matters conference to dig deeper in discussion about the importance of indigenous health and rights, the necessity to change the status quo to ensure indigenous world views, rather than racism, are embedded in policy decision-making, and the role that solidarity and ally-ship can play in creating a better, more indigenous-centred Canada.

Micaela Pereira Bajard is a Master of Public Health Candidate at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH). Follow her on Twitter at @MicaPB or on her personal blog “Mica est là”.

 

Possible: When the Improbable becomes the Inevitab...
Active Offer

Comments

 
No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment