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April 25, 2012 / mike54martin

A Big Mistake

There are many mistakes being made by the Conservatives in the recent Federal Budget including using a bazooka when it could have better utilized a laser to pin point savings and reduce the deficit. But they also are making a number of other strategic mistakes that appear to be ideologically driven and will end up costing all Canadians much, much more in the long run.

One of their worst mistakes is the de-funding of Aboriginal organizations who are engaged in the research, policy development and gathering of information on Aboriginal health. They say that they will continue to fund direct front-line services at the same level (because they have to) but as we have seen from Attawapistat, the status quo is not a place that many of us would like to live.

This is a strategic mistake because it ignores both the reality on the ground and the future at the same time. Right now it costs a lot of money to provide basic health care services to Aboriginals in their communities. It costs more than other Canadians and not just because they live in isolated, remote or Northern communities, although that is a big factor. It costs more also because First Nation, Métis, and Inuit people have a number of more acute health care problems than the rest of us.

Here are some of the stats about Aboriginal Health from Statistics Canada. First of all compared with the general population, the percentage of Aboriginal peoples living in overcrowded housing is five to six times higher on reserves and in the North. Poor housing conditions allow diseases such as tuberculosis to spread. In 2005, the tuberculosis rate was 27 active cases per 100,000 in Aboriginal peoples compared with 5 active cases per 100,000 in the Canadian population.

HIV/AIDS rates among Aboriginal peoples is an ongoing concern, especially for Aboriginal women and youths. From 1998 to 2005, women made up 47% of all new HIV diagnoses among Aboriginal people, compared with 21% among non-Aboriginal people. Moreover, Aboriginal people receive a diagnosis of HIV at a younger age than non-Aboriginal people—one out of three Aboriginal persons newly diagnosed with HIV is under 30 years of age. By contrast, one out of five non-Aboriginal persons newly diagnosed is under 30.

Higher rates for diabetes mellitus among Aboriginal peoples is also of great concern. In 2001, 11% of Aboriginal adults on reserves had been diagnosed with diabetes, compared with 8% of First Nations adults off reserves, 6% of Métis, 2% of Inuit and 3% of the general population. High rates of diabetes are linked to key health determinants such as income, employment levels, education, social conditions and access to health care.

By almost every standard Aboriginal communities are worse off than the rest of the Canadian population. This applies to suicide rates, binge drinking, alcohol-related deaths, drug use and abuse, domestic violence, sexual assaults, and a woefully inadequate child welfare system that does not meet the needs of aboriginal children, families or communities. First Nations and Inuit are also the most likely in Canada to be undiagnosed or under diagnosed for mental illness.

The cuts in this budget means not only will the dire status quo continue but all of the work that these organizations have been doing on prevention, health promotion, suicide prevention will be lost. So too will the work helping their people regain their pride and their culture as they heal from residential schools, all forms of abuse at the hands of church and government officials, forced relocation and the denial of their language and culture.

What will also be lost is the hope of  individuals and communities who are slowly recovering from intergenerational trauma. They are making progress in developing and regaining perseverance, resiliency, and healthy coping skills as well as reclaiming and strengthening their language and culture. They are combining traditional knowledge and medicine with new approaches and getting people out onto the land to reconnect with nature. They have been trying and making progress but now their funding has been decimated.

We need to not only stop the problems in Aboriginal communities from getting worse we need to make the situation better. And we need to do that not just because it is the right thing to do but also because it will save us money in the long term. From 1996 to 2006 the Aboriginal population has increased by 47% compared to 8% for non-Aboriginals. And 48% of Aboriginal people are less than 25 years old. Aboriginal youth is the fastest growing demographic in the country. They also have the highest suicide rates, the highest prison rates and the highest rates of involvement in gang activity inCanada.

Unless we take active steps to restore the health care funding to aboriginal organizations we run the risk of more Inuit youth suicides. In Iqaluit lat year there were 11 suicides. If that rate was repeated in a city like Ottawa it would mean over 1,500 suicides. We run the risk of more Aboriginal people in jail. That would raise their 20% of the prison population even higher. And we run the risk of more young Aboriginal women ending up on drugs and on the street, most of whom will be abused, some of whom will die.

I am not a health care expert, a statistician, a scientist or Aboriginal. But I have seen the television pictures of Attawapistat and the all too often posters of missing Aboriginal girls and women. I also know that we have not treated our First Nation, Métis, and Inuit people well in the past and that there is little we can do about that other than to say we are sorry. We can however make changes in that relationship in the present that can positively influence the future. And the time to do that is right now.

I guess the really sad part about the decision to take these monies away from Aboriginal organizations is that it sends a clear message that the Conservative government doesn’t care about Aboriginal people. How else could you justify treating them in this way?

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