Indigenous healthcare in Canada continues to suffer. Every few months, articles from major news outlets decry the suicide crises that erupt far too often in these communities. Yet the problem is not a new one.
Indigenous people across Canada have significantly higher suicide rates compared to the rest of the country. Following a mass suicide or suicide attempts in these communities, a state of emergency or some other alert is issued. Emergency and crisis management teams are brought in, including mental health staff such as nurses and social workers. However, the temperance of these strategies is reflective of the problem itself – many of the healthcare services provided for our Indigenous peoples are acute if not inadequate, accounting for the alarming frequency of these crises. We need sustainable solutions that are prophylactic.
In Canada, the health of our Indigenous peoples is a federal responsibility while the provincial government is primarily responsible for the care of non-Indigenous Canadians. Dr. Kirlew, who serves the Sioux Lookout and surrounding area in Northwestern Ontario, contends that the federal system does not have the same heathcare capacity as that of the provincial level. He also states that the federal responsibility of Indigenous health results in “triaging people based on race to an inferior system,” resulting in suicide rates and other disease-specific indicators being significantly higher in Indigenous populations.
However, Indigenous suicide is more than a mental-health problem. Unemployment, homelessness, a legacy of colonialism and other factors contribute to the overall decreased quality of life. The etiology of the disparity in health outcomes among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is complex and requires a multifocal approach. Improving their health must involve improving underlying socioeconomic conditions. Otherwise, we risk repetition of the tragic underservice our Indigenous communities have faced for too long.
(Written by Aninditee Das/Image Source)