Go to main menu Go to main content Go to footer

Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Eight issues

BY Will Nicholls Jul 3, 2024

A blog written back in 2015 lists eight key issues for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. I would argue that there are many more. To begin: Indigenous children and youth have higher death rates, live in inadequate housing, have higher rates of suicide, poorer health, lower levels of education, higher rates of incarceration, higher rates of unemployment and lower income levels.

Written by Bob Joseph, a member of Gwawaenuk First Nation in BC, the article says this is due to a combination of the Indian Act and colonialism. For example, he wrote, the World Health Organization recognizes colonialism as a “common and fundamental underlying determinant of Indigenous health.” Poorer health is linked to lower income, social factors and more. 

I would add that the systemic racism prevalent in Canada’s health systems is another factor. It led to Jordan’s Principle (to ensure Indigenous children receive the same health benefits as other Canadian children) and Joyce’s Principle (who died in a Joliette hospital as medical staff ignored her and made racist remarks). 

When I went to the emergency room at a Montreal hospital, I had to inform them that I was First Nations so staff could speak English with me, which is a small improvement. Others have faced larger problems.

In Quebec, colonialism is stronger than ever in the education system. The CAQ government’s imposition of sharply higher tuition rates for out-of-province students in English post-secondary education institutions is one example. The requirement to prove French proficiency to graduate is not only designed to discourage enrolment in Quebe’s English-language schools but will also be one more barrier for many First Nations students from other provinces.

Inadequate and crowded housing conditions is an issue that has existed since settlers mandated places where Indigenous people could live. The problem harms physical and mental health, often leads to domestic violence and helps produce food insecurity. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the RCMP came into many communities and killed all the dogs. The reason for this was to reduce mobility and keep First Nations people on reserves. 

Indigenous people have lower incomes as there are no real local economic engines in most communities. People had to move away to find jobs, and many lost Indian status as a result.

Higher levels of incarceration are something that all First Nations know. Look at the jails – it’s mostly just us. In federal prisons, 50% of female inmates are Indigenous while the total Indigenous population (male and female) is only 5% of Canada’s population.

Early deaths and injuries of children as well as higher rates of suicide are well known. Children who suffer injuries in remote communities rarely receive any form of physical therapy or rehabilitation or access to other resources they may need. While Jordan’s Principle was helping, the federal government hasn’t renewed funding in this year’s budget. Suicide rates have always been high, ranging from nine times the national rate for the Inuit and three times that for First Nations.

One key issue that Joseph left out is sex trafficking. About 50% of women, girls and children who are sex trafficked in Canada are Indigenous. 

LATEST ᒫᐦᒡ ᑎᐹᒋᒧᐧᐃᓐ

Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.