Vision Statement

NWAC envisions a world where all Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people have equal access to health, regardless of race, class, status, gender, age, sexual orientation or geographic location. The right to health must be understood from a holistic perspective and must include access to community-based and culturally-safe services and supports. 

“Indigenous women know what they need to heal, they just need adequate resources to do it.”

First Nations participant during NWAC’s Northern Health Engagement Session in Watson Lake, Yukon, December 2018.

Image of a womens hands holding fresh lake water

Summary

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.

That said, we are equally aware of the inspiring resiliency and strength that exists amongst Indigenous peoples and the remarkable work being done within communities and at the grassroots level. Therefore, NWAC has worked with our Provincial and Territorial Member Associations to connect with Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people across Canada to gain a better understanding of their health needs and priorities. This knowledge will directly inform NWAC’s health unit, enabling us to better represent and advocate for Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people.

In order to best serve communities, our unit is dedicated to taking a strength-based, trauma informed, community-led and community-driven approach with a focus on prevention, health promotion, healing and resiliency. When developing health projects, resources, recommendations or policies, rather than focusing on deficits, we focus on the strengths and resiliency of Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people.

Recommendations

1.  Address the social determinant and underlying causes of poor health outcomes. 

2. Provide Indigenous women and their communities with self-determination over their right to health, including where they access and who provides their healthcare. 

3. Implement a trauma-informed, culturally safe and gender-based approach to healthcare. 

  1. Elamoshy R, Bird Y, Thorpe LU, Moraros J. Examining the association between diabetes, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation among Aboriginal Canadian peoples living off-reserve: a cross-sectional, population-based study. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes Targets Ther. 2018 Nov 22;11:767–80.
  2. King M, Smith A, Gracey M. Indigenous health part 2: the underlying causes of the health gap. The Lancet. 2009 Jul 4;374(9683):76–85.
  3. Statistics Canada. Projected life expectancy at birth by sex, by Aboriginal identity, 2017 [Internet]. [cited 2019 Feb 13]. Available from: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-645-x/2010001/c-g/c-g013-eng.htm
  4. National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. An Overview of Aboriginal Health in Canada [Internet]. 2013. Available from: https://www.nccahccnsa.ca/Publications/Lists/Publications/Attachments/101/abororiginal_health_web.pdf
  5. National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. An Overview of Aboriginal Health in Canada [Internet]. 2013. Available from: https://www.nccahccnsa.ca/Publications/Lists/Publications/Attachments/101/abororiginal_health_web.pdf
  6. Jacklin KM, Walker JD, Shawande M. The Emergence of Dementia as a Health Concern Among First Nations   Populations in Alberta, Canada. Can J Public Health. 2013;104(1):e39-
  7. Patterson, M, Finn, S, Barker, K. Addressing tuberculosis among Inuit in Canada. 2018;44-3/4:82–82.