National Aboriginal Day: An Overview of Aboriginal Health in Canada

In recognition of National Aboriginal Day I wanted to write about some of the health challenges that Canada’s Aboriginal population are facing and the challenges they experience in accessing health care and resources. But before we begin, I want to share some background information about Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

Background. Indigenous people, also referred to as Aboriginal peoples, are the original inhabitants of Canada, including the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. Nearly 1.4 million people within Canada identify as Aboriginal according to Statistics Canada (1). Within the above listed branches of Aboriginal peoples exist hundreds of distinct groups, nations, and communities that are diverse in terms of language, traditions, culture, and so much more. 

Aboriginal Health Status. The Aboriginal peoples of Canada have a long history traditional healing practices and health knowledge. However, there is no denying the devastation and destruction with respect to their traditions and way of life, which has affected the Indigenous peoples, starting at the time of colonization. In more recent years, Canada has focused on restoring and improving the health of Aboriginal peoples; yet First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples continue to experience lower health outcomes in comparison to non-Aboriginal Canadians. This seems to be directly related to health inequities or social determinants of health including social, economic, cultural, and political inequities. Factors contributing to poor health outcomes amongst Aboriginal populations include lack of higher education; only 68.1% of Aboriginal people between 25 and 34 years old have obtained a high school diploma compared to 90% of non-Aboriginal people, lower incomes and higher unemployment rates, and overcrowding/poor living conditions (2). Economic, social, and cultural disparities have profound impacts on Aboriginal peoples in Canada and worldwide and have lead to high infant and child mortality, high maternal mortality, greater infectious disease burdens, malnutrition, shortened life expectancy, diseases associated with cigarette smoking, social problems, deaths related to substance and alcohol abuse, violence, high homicide and suicide rates, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular and chronic renal disease, and diseases caused by environmental contamination (for example heavy metals, industrial waste) (3). Additionally, Aboriginal populations report higher rates of contagious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis (4,5).  Type 2 diabetes is now considered an epidemic amongst First Nations, with adults being 4 times more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes and its’ complications (6).  Even more alarming is the youth suicide rate being 800 times the national average in some First Nations communities (7). Aboriginal populations are also greatly affected by environmental contamination, especially in the Artic regions, where food sources have accumulated toxins and lead to serious health concerns (8).

Naturopathic Medicine and Indigenous Wellness. Naturopathic medicine is a holistic approach that has its roots in simple principles including utilizing the healing power provided by nature, identifying and treating the root cause of the problem, doing no harm, educating individuals about their health, treating the whole person, and focusing on disease prevention. These foundational principles are very relatable especially when looking at health and traditional healing practices used by Indigenous peoples. When considering the heath of Aboriginal peoples, all aspects, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health must be addressed; this is what is meant when naturopathic doctors treat the whole person. We look beyond physical symptoms and examine the mind-body connection when treating the person, not their disease. As a naturopathic doctor, I welcome any learning opportunity to collaborate and work alongside traditional Indigenous healers and people to learn about healing practices that utilize natural resources available to us in our environment. There is much to be learned from the resilience and strength demonstrated within the Aboriginal communities throughout Canada.

I’d love to hear about your traditional healing practices. Feel free to share in the comments below.

Yours in health,
Dr. Kate Klein, ND




(1) Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit. Accessed on June 21, 2017.

(2) Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (2009). A demographic and soci-economic portrait of Aboriginal populations in Canada. Retrieved March 5, 2013 from

(3) An Overview of Aboriginal Health in Canada (2013). National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health

(4) Monette, L.E., Rourke, S.B., Gibson, K., Bekele, T.M., Tucker, R., Greene, S., et al. (2011). Inequalities in determinants of health among Aboriginal and Caucasian persons living with HIV/AIDS in Ontario: Results from the Positive Spaces, Healthy Places study. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 102(3): 215-19.

(5) Public Health Agency of Canada. (2007). Special report of the Canadian Tuberculosis Committee: Tuberculosis among Aboriginal peoples of Canada, 2000-2004. Ottawa, ON: Author.

(6) Thommasen, H.V., Patenaude, J., Anderson, N., McArthur, A., & Tildesley, H. (2004). Difference in diabetic co-morbidity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people living in Bella Coola, Canada. Rural and Remote Health, 4: 319.

(7) Chandler, M.J., & Lalonde, C. (1998). Cultural continuity as a hedge against suicide in Canada’s First Nations. Transcultural Psychiatry, 35: 191-219.

(8) Fontaine, J. Dewailly, E. Benedetti, J.L., Pereg, D., Ayotte, P., & Déry, S. (2008). Re-evaluation of blood mercury, lead and cadmium concentrations in the Inuit population of Nunavik (Québec): A crosssectional study. Environmental Health, 7: 25.