Written by grassroots Indigenous peoples involved in Indigenous health across Canada
Montreal - April 22nd, 2012
It has become overwhelmingly clear amongst the community of Indigenous health service providers, public health representatives, and all of our communities nationally that the Conservative government has made targeted cuts to undermine health programs that are critical for the sustenance of front-line work within Aboriginal communities.
The prompt roll-out of these decisions has resulted in the near-inhumane on-the-spot firing and/or suspended employment of many Aboriginal health workers. This is part of a long history of solely government made decisions that continuously fail to consider the legacy of colonialism, genocide, and other trauma that gravely impact the state of Indigenous health outcomes.
For example Indigenous peoples, and specifically Indigenous youth, are disproportionately affected by HIV due to many factors, including assimilation, the legacies of residential schools, and social, political and economic isolation. The HIV infection rate among Aboriginal people is 3.6 times higher and the age at HIV diagnosis is lower than for non-Aboriginals. From 1998 – 2008, Aboriginal youth in Canada comprised 32.6% of the positive HIV test reports, as compared with 20.5% among those of other ethnicities. During 1998 – 2008 women represented 48.8% of all positive test reports among Aboriginal people as compared with 20.6% of reports among those of other ethnicities.
The government of Canada has a fiduciary responsibility to uphold the health of Indigenous Peoples of this land, regardless of on or off reserve, whether in northern territories or large urban centres. Government has the obligation to uphold these rights for land seized and resources stolen. Canada has clearly not been upholding its duty to implement, because while we see the rates of multiple health disparities in addition to HIV such as suicide, cancer rates, and diabetes increasing, their responses to act are ever decreasing.
When Indigenous health is not made a priority, our self-determination as Indigenous Peoples is not made a priority. As Indigenous communities, our family networks extend beyond our immediate kin. We work with communities in proximity to our own, with those across the country and internationally. Our National Aboriginal Organizations who are involved in health are one example of this kinship circle, and our worldview as collective communities. We work together because we are family.
Canada claims to be an upholder of human rights in which health is of great importance - however their actions speak quite differently. Canada said it ‘fully’ endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on November 12, 2010. According to article, 3, 23, and 24 of this Declaration, the recent cuts to Indigenous health programs across Canada are a direct violation of the human rights of Indigenous Peoples. The full realization of our rights as Indigenous Peoples will not happen if the right to health is not upheld. While Canada endorsed the declaration and has indicated that it will not change their response, these rights already exist within other legally binding human rights instruments such as the Committee to End all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
In addition, the apology for the residential school experience given by government in June 2008 was recognized as a historical moment, but holds little substance with the ongoing removal of these rights. The actions since this apology are an indication of the lack of commitment behind this apology. Healing as it relates to health is a central part to our self-determination and the next generations.
Delays, reductions and outright cuts in funding create an environment of instability and endanger the delivery of effective health resources. Furthermore, it is up to the discretion and leadership of Indigenous people to decide what front-line health care looks like to us in our communities, not the government of Canada.
We therefore urge government, the Ministry of Health, and everyone to take immediate action against these funding cuts and continued policies of forced assimilation. We demand that Indigenous peoples be supported to determine their own health and the ways in which health is taken care of. If you allow people to help themselves, take care of their communities and be strong - we will flourish.