Manitoba’s First Nations children face barriers in nearly every socioeconomic factor: report

A young First Nations child plays street hockey, July 17, 2009. The Canadian Press Images/Francis Vachon

A damning new report shows First Nations children in Manitoba are facing inequalities in nearly every socioeconomic factor compared to other children.

From health and mental health, to education, family supports, and involvement with the justice system, First Nations children are grappling with a litany of challenges making it much harder to become healthy, thriving adults, the report says.

Our Children, Our Future: Health and Well-being of First Nations Children in Manitoba was produced in collaboration with the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, and the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP).

“It should be distressing and an embarrassment to the citizens of Manitoba how one section of the population is doing so poorly given we live in one of the greatest countries in the world,” said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

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‘We need to increase graduation rates, improve access to preventative care, improve birthing supports and outcomes, improve mental wellness, and decrease violence, and improve the social determinants of health.”

Comparing First Nations children to other Manitoba children, some of the findings show:

  • First Nations babies are more likely to be born early and larger.
  • First Nations children’s rate of diabetes is 20 times higher.
  • First Nations children’s rate of dental surgery is 28 times higher.
  • Substance abuse disorders among teens are more than five times higher.
  • By Grade 7, First Nations children are twice as likely to be disengaged from school.
  • First Nations children are eight times more likely to witness a crime, and six times more likely to be the victim of a crime.

“The findings in this report confirm what we know too well in our communities: that centuries of colonization, racism, and economic apartheid have significantly impacted the health and wellness of our people, and especially our children,” said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.

“We need equitable access to equitable services in health care, mental health, education, justice, and social services, and we need it now. Our children — our children’s lives — are at stake.”

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Additionally, researchers found First Nations children are seven times more likely to be taken into care by the child welfare system, half as likely to graduate high school, and more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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“Despite this, we didn’t find a higher rate of mood and anxiety disorders among First Nations children,” said Dr. Mariette Chartier, assistant professor of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba and lead author of the study, in a news release.

“The Knowledge Keepers say this is because illnesses like depression are not being diagnosed, due to a lack of mental health services for First Nations youth.”

The Knowledge Keepers, who are represented by Elders from Anishinaabe, Cree, Anishininew, Dakota and Dene Nations, make a number of urgent calls for action, such as equitable access to health care and education, restoring and implementing First Nations language programs in schools, and a complete overhaul of the child welfare system.

“Our children are bearing the brunt of political decisions and inaction, from unsafe homes, unsafe drinking water, lack of health care, unresolved trauma and the impacts of colonial policies intended to destruct rather than to build and empower,” the Knowledge Keepers write in the report.

“The intergenerational impacts of destructive policies and actions/inaction must stop.”

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In compiling the report, researchers used de-identified data from the Population Research Data Repository, however, Knowledge Keepers from First Nations communities pointed out that some medical data that depends on visits to a physician are likely to be underestimated, since primary and mental health services are lacking in First Nations communities.

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