Indigenous populations experience health inequities and poorer health outcomes compared to the general Canadian population.1 While the causes of these disparities are complex and multifaceted, noteworthy determinants include the legacy of colonization and assimilation, discriminatory policies, ongoing inequities in healthcare systems, gaps in existing programming and policy frameworks and social determinants of health.2
This is illustrated by the significant differences in Indigenous women’s life expectancy compared to non-Indigenous women. In 2017, the projected life expectancy for First Nations women was 78, for Metis women it was 80 and for Inuit Women it was 73, compared to 84 for the non-Indigenous women.3 The social and economic marginalization of Indigenous women lends itself to poorer maternal and child health, mental health and increased levels of mental distress; which in turn increase the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and higher rates of substance misuse.4
In 2016, approximately five per cent of the total female population in Canada was Indigenous, yet, Indigenous women are consistently over-represented in negative health statistics. Indigenous populations are more likely to have higher rates of numerous chronic conditions like hypertension, heart disease, stroke and diabetes at a younger age, compared to the general Canadian population.5 The increased prevalence of chronic conditions, combined with elevated smoking and obesity rates in some Indigenous populations increases risk of dementia where some First Nations communities have observed an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.6 Other infectious diseases like tuberculosis affect Indigenous populations at higher rates compared to non-Indigenous populations. Rates of tuberculosis are over 300 times higher amongst Inuit compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts.7 This complex multimorbidity at younger ages can substantially impact quality of life.