Research shows Need for Action on First Nations Health Crisis

THUNDER BAY, ON: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Terry Waboose says recently released research linking water quality and inadequate housing to invasive disease confirms the health crisis facing NAN First Nations and requires immediate action.

“This research shows that First Nations living in remote communities are severely marginalized when it comes to health care and the basic qualities of life and makes the important connection between the increased prevalence of infectious disease and substandard living conditions in many of our communities,” said Deputy Grand Chief Terry Waboose, who holds the health portfolio. “Such high rates of infectious diseases are a shocking indictment of a broken health care system and the normalization of second-class citizenship by First Nations living on-reserve is unacceptable and must be a call for action.”

Recent studies by the Canadian Journal of Rural Medicine have documented an alarming increased in invasive diseases such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and rheumatic fever in remote First Nations. The reports conclude that inadequate housing, lack of safe water and inferior health care delivery are major contributing factors.

Two four-year-old children from two NAN First Nations passed away in 2014 from issues related to strep throat, a relatively minor ailment that any child in an urban area could easily be treated from with a quick trip to a doctor’s office or emergency room. Tragically, neither child received adequate medical attention in time.

In his spring report, the Auditor General of Canada concluded that First Nations living in remote communities are severely marginalized when it comes to access and the delivery of health care services. The Auditor General found that Health Canada did not take into account community health needs when allocating its support, and highlighted Health Canada’s continued failure to address the heath care needs of First Nations.

A summer report by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, On-Reserve Housing and Infrastructure: Recommendations for Change, made 13 recommendations for the federal government to make improvements in on-reserve housing, infrastructure and

financing, including the removal of the two per cent cap on annual increases on funding and development of a housing strategy for remote and isolated First Nations to address specific challenges and building costs.

“The chronic lack of housing and infrastructure has left many NAN First Nations in crisis and it is shameful that Canada enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world while the majority of our communities are left to suffer in deplorable, sub-standard conditions,” said Waboose. “Twenty-one of our First Nations have been on drinking water advisories for more than 10 years and nearly all communities are in need of major upgrades to water and wastewater systems and other critical infrastructure.”

NAN presented recommendations regarding infrastructure needs during the Senate Committee’s 2014 study of First Nations housing and infrastructure on-reserve including:

  • immediate funding for water and sewer systems for communities at high risk;
  • development and funding of comprehensive community planning to guide development; and
  • elimination of the current piecemeal approach and the development of new ways of administering and evaluating capital funding.

A 2011 report by the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation found that it would cost approximately $1.1 billion to meet the water and waste water needs in NAN’s

49 First Nations by upgrading or replacing exiting facilities.

For more information please contact: Roxann Shapwaykeesic, Communications Officer – Nishnawbe Aski Nation (807) 625-4906 or cell (807) 251-6876 or by email


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