The Ongoing Struggle With Indigenous Health Inequities in Canada

Uncover the ongoing struggle with Indigenous health inequities in Canada. Learn about challenges, and the crucial role nurses play.

Despite efforts to improve Indigenous health, inequities persist. In this article, we explore the ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous communities in Canada, including historical and systemic factors, social determinants of health, efforts and challenges to improve equity in Canada, and the need for culturally safe and holistic approaches to achieve health equity for Indigenous peoples.


Current State of Indigenous Health in Canada

Canada flag with blue sky

Indigenous communities across Canada used to have healing systems in place adapted to their specific environments and fared quite well, but these were disrupted by Europeans that brought new diseases to the colonized territories. Some of the healing rituals were even banned and punished after the implementation of the Indian Act.

To this, we must add the degradation of living conditions and loss of land, which led to poverty and a poor diet and food insecurity, coupled with other harsh factors such as racism. It is also important to note that it was only in the 1960s that the federal government even adapted its healthcare policies to include Indigenous communities specifically.

There are unfortunately devastating statistics to prove the health inequities of Indigenous Canada as well as inequities in access to medications. For example, infant mortality rates are multiplied by 3 to 7 in communities, diabetes by 2 to 5, and hunger issues are four times as bad as in non-indigenous communities. The quality of homes in communities also affects the general health of families, especially with the flagrant overcrowding of houses in the North.

Further statistics and information can be found within these Indigenous health resources of the Government of Canada.

totem poles in a forest

Social Determinants of Health in Indigenous Communities

Social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age, and the systems in place that shape these conditions. In Canada, Indigenous health is impacted by several social determinants. For instance, historical trauma, loss of cultural identity, limited access to healthcare services, inadequate housing, poverty, food insecurity, and discrimination contribute to health disparities among Indigenous populations. These factors can lead to higher rates of chronic diseases, mental health issues, substance abuse, and reduced overall well-being within Indigenous communities.

Cultural safety is crucial in healthcare for Indigenous populations in Canada. It involves creating an environment where individuals feel respected, understood, and validated in their cultural identities and practices. By embracing cultural safety, healthcare providers can address historical and ongoing cultural biases, improve communication, and build trust with Indigenous patients.

Cultural continuity, on the other hand, refers to maintaining and preserving cultural traditions, languages, and healing practices within Indigenous communities. It plays a significant role in Indigenous health by promoting a sense of belonging, identity, and resilience, which are essential for overall well-being and positive health outcomes.

Emphasizing cultural safety and supporting cultural continuity are essential for reducing health disparities and achieving health equity for Indigenous peoples in Canada.


Efforts and Challenges to Improve Indigenous Health Equity in Canada

In Canada, various initiatives and policies are being implemented to improve Indigenous health and address the health disparities experienced by Indigenous peoples. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established in 2008, has played a significant role in promoting reconciliation and addressing the impacts of the residential school system on Indigenous communities. The TRC’s Calls to Action include specific recommendations related to Indigenous health, such as ensuring equitable access to healthcare services and addressing the social determinants of health.

Additionally, the Indigenous Health Framework was developed by the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) in British Columbia. It focuses on culturally safe and appropriate healthcare services for First Nations peoples, emphasizing holistic approaches and community-led initiatives. The framework promotes collaboration between Indigenous communities, healthcare providers, and government agencies to improve health outcomes.

The federal government has also introduced initiatives such as the First Nations and Inuit Home and Community Care Program and the Indigenous Services Canada’s Jordan’s Principle. These initiatives aim to enhance access to quality healthcare, support community-based care, and address gaps in health services for Indigenous populations.

Efforts are underway to incorporate Indigenous traditional knowledge and healing practices into healthcare systems, foster partnerships with Indigenous communities, and promote cultural safety and humility among healthcare professionals, as well as ensuring health promotion.

While progress has been made, ongoing commitment and collaboration are required to achieve meaningful improvements in Indigenous health and address the systemic factors contributing to health disparities.

How Can Nurses Improve Indigenous Health?

Nurses play a vital role in promoting Indigenous health and wellness by providing culturally sensitive and holistic care, advocating for equitable access to healthcare services, collaborating with Indigenous communities, incorporating traditional healing practices, and fostering trust and respectful relationships with Indigenous patients.

Nurses can employ several strategies to improve Indigenous health outcomes in Canada. Firstly, they can undergo cultural safety training to enhance their understanding of Indigenous cultures, histories, and worldviews. This training enables nurses to provide culturally sensitive care, develop effective communication skills, and address potential biases or stereotypes.

Incorporating Indigenous knowledge and practices into healthcare delivery is crucial. Nurses can work collaboratively with Indigenous communities and traditional healers to integrate traditional healing methods alongside Western medicine. This holistic approach recognizes the importance of cultural continuity and respects the diverse healing traditions within Indigenous cultures.

person holding hands

Building trust with Indigenous communities is essential. Nurses can establish relationships based on respect, active listening, and collaboration. By engaging in open dialogue, involving community members in healthcare planning, and acknowledging the impacts of colonization, nurses can foster trust and overcome historical traumas that have affected healthcare access and experiences.

Moreover, engaging in continuous professional development about Indigenous health issues, advocating for equitable access to healthcare services, and supporting community-led initiatives are additional strategies nurses can employ to improve Indigenous health outcomes in Canada.

If you’d like to take steps to contribute to better healthcare for Indigenous communities in Canada, discover our various job opportunities and reach out to our team!