According to Statistics Canada, children under 14 years old represent one-third of the Aboriginal population in Canada (2001 Census, Aboriginal Peoples of Canada). Although the Aboriginal population accounted for only 3.3% of Canada’s total population, Aboriginal children represented 5.6% of all children in Canada. Despite this, they lag far behind other Canadian children when it comes to their health.

The following reports emphasize the disproportionate and multi-dimensional health risks faced by Aboriginal children and young people in Canada, while suggesting progressive solutions to support healthy development and living:

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples states that: “Children hold a special place in Aboriginal cultures. According to tradition, they are gifts from the spirit world and have to be treated very gently lest they become disillusioned with this world and return to a more congenial place. They must be protected from harm because there are spirits that would wish to entice them back to that other realm.” Included in the recommendations is that the Canadian government “acknowledge a fiduciary responsibility to support Aboriginal nations and their communities in restoring Aboriginal families to a state of health and wholeness.” (RCAP, 1996)

In A Canada Fit for Children, the government of Canada says it will “move toward closing the gap between Aboriginal children and others in Canada. This includes building on our commitment to address the gap in life chances and health status between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children….[We] will strive to build supportive environments to improve the healthy development of Aboriginal children through safe, affordable housing, access to quality and culturally specific health services, child care and schools, as well as improved supports for parents, families and communities.” (A Canada Fit for Children, 2004, p. 47)

The United Nation’s Children’s Fund (Unicef) says that Indigenous children rarely enjoy the same standard of health or have the same access to health care services as their non-Indigenous peers. It calls for: initiatives that blend and balance traditional and Western medicine; assessment studies of Indigenous health practices; the involvement of Indigenous persons to address cultural issues and to convey health messages more effectively; the promotion of healthy nutrition by ensuring security of land tenure and supporting production of traditional food supplies; the promotion of access to health services. (Innocenti Digest No. 11, 2004)

Among the specific health and medical issues facing Aboriginal children and youth in Canada are the following:

Infant mortality rates are twice to three times as high in First Nations and Inuit communities (CPHI, 2004). The overall infant mortality rate was 5.5/1,000, compared to 25.5 in Nunavik and 24 in Nunavut (figures for Nunavik and Nunavut are for the total population, including non-Inuit). (Archibald and Grey, 2000).

The suicide rate among Aboriginals is two to six times that of the overall Canadian population. (CPHI, 2004)

Aboriginal children are at a higher risk for unintentional injuries and early deaths from drowning and other causes. Injuries are the biggest contributor to premature death among First Nations on reserve—rates are four times that of the overall Canadian population. (CPHI, 2004)

Access to care is limited in many areas. In 2000, parents of approximately 7 in 10 Inuit children in the north had obtained medical attention for their children (including information over the phone) from doctors (including paediatricians and other specialists), or nurses. This compares with over 8 in 10 (84%) Aboriginal children living in other non-reserve areas in Canada. For all Canadian children, the figure was 9 in 10. (Statistics Canada, 2004)
The rate of high birth weight among First Nations is twice as high as that of the overall Canadian population. (Sources: Statistics Canada, Health Canada, Healthy Canadians, A federal Report on Comparable Health Indicators, 2002)
Rates of diabetes (largely as a result of obesity) are higher among Aboriginal youth than among other adolescents. (CPHI, 2004)
Living conditions for First Nations people rank 63rd in the world – comparable with developing countries – and are the root causes of poor health. Overcrowded housing, mould, and unsafe drinking water help spread communicable diseases at a rate 10 to 12 times higher than the national average. Over 40% of homes are considered inadequate shelter. (Source: Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, 1999, and Health Canada, 2003)
Dental decay rates for Aboriginal children in Ontario are two to five times higher than rates among non-Aboriginal children. (Health Canada, 2003)
With the exception of Hib vaccine, immunization rates among First Nations children are lower than among other children in Canada. (Health Canada, 2003)