Native health tied to economic development

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

A great and sobering piece in the Star Phoenix today about First Nation health and its connection to socioeconomic status.

Statistics Canada has crunched the numbers and there is definite evidence that low socioeconomic indicators is leading to poor health incomes for First Nations.

Statistics Canada took the data from a  longitudinal cohort that followed the health outcomes of more than 2.7 million Canadians from 1991 to 2001. This group included 56,700 “Registered Indians.”

The study found that for those who live to the age of 25, life expectancy for Indian men is 4.4 years below that of other Canadian men, while Indian women live 6.3 years less than other Canadian women.

The basic observation was that First Nation men and women were much more likely to die prematurely from all causes of death, including infectious diseases, chronic diseases and even accidents.

Besides showing that First Nations need to deal with obvious items like diet and healthy lifestyles, this shows that historic government policies targeting First Nation communities are not working.

The study has a silver lining. It found that improvements in income, employment and education led to improvements in tackling premature mortality.  It also found that socioeconomic differences explained many of the differences in mental health outcomes as well.

This all means that the struggle over First Nation economic development is intimately tied to the struggle for First Nation health in all its dimensions, including propensities towards suicide.

Improving the economic climate and the educational opportunities for First Nation communities should be the number one priority. It is no longer if this starts, but when.

Quite literally, the current policies are killing people and must stop.