By Cam Martin
A recent study from the University of Saskatchewan has found that Métis people are less healthy than the average Canadian. Métis leaders hope that the survey will encourage Health Canada to create programming that meets the needs of Métis people. Métis Nation-Saskatchewan president Robert Doucette commented, “This and many other reports generated across Canada on Métis health all conclude one thing: Métis citizens generally have poorer health than the average Canadian.” The study revealed that Manitoba Métis residents are 21% more likely than others in the province to die before the age of 75.
Tobacco use contributes significantly to the discouraging outlook of Métis health, and Health Canada plans to introduce a new program this fall to help combat tobacco use among Aboriginals. Among Métis, tobacco use reaches 54%—that’s double the average of Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, easy access to tobacco products, as well as the legacy of use passed down from parent to child, makes it hard for Métis youth to escape the health risks associated with using tobacco.
Diabetes and high blood pressure are also serious health concerns. The Métis have a rate of diabetes 40% higher than other Manitobans. Because some Aboriginal communities are in remote locations, many members are not consistently monitored. Inadequate dietary education also makes it difficult for community members to make informed decisions about their nutrition. “If you want a definition of a high risk group, you don’t have to look any farther,” says Dr. Stewart Harris, a leading diabetes researcher. Dr. Harris will soon head to Ottawa to present detailed findings to the federal government, who funded the study on Métis health.
Many of these problems are the result of a lack of preventative maintenance, and insufficient access to proper health care programs has First Nations representatives very upset. With proper education programs and access to healthy alternatives, tobacco use and obesity would likely be reduced. “There may be lifestyle issues, but it’s a far more complex issue than simply looking at lifestyle,” said Dr. Judith Bartlett, a lead researcher and director of the Manitoba Métis Federation’s (MMF) health and wellness department.
Another alarming issue presented with the study’s findings is an increased rate of suicide among Métis youth—more than 40% higher than among Manitobans of other ethnicities. David Chartrand, president of the MMF, is outraged. “Why are our young people killing themselves sooner? Why are our old people dying faster than everybody else?” he wonders. In the “province we founded,” Chartrand said of Métis, the people deserve better from the public healthcare system. “I have anger in my voice because I’ve been seeing this for so long,” he said. “We’re still Canadians, still taxpayers, and still have rights as citizens.” Hopefully, this study and the resulting reaction will have the desired effect upon healthcare, giving incentive to improve and implement programs not only within the Métis community but also among all Aboriginal communities in Canada who struggle with similar health issues.