By: Prarthana Pathak
The Indigenous population in Canada have some of the highest rates of psychological distress. Statistics have shown that suicide rates of the Indigenous are 2-3 times higher than non-indigenous Canadians. Suicide is a major cause of death amongst Canadian First Nation, Inuit, and Métis peoples—due to many complex factors involved. However, a recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal analyzed and crunched numbers from the 2012 Statistics of Canada, concluding that food and nutrition play a huge role in their mental health.
The 2012 Aboriginals Peoples survey collected information from the Indigenous adults living off-reserve in Canada and identified many of the factors contributing to the psychosocial distress amongst the First Nations. It wasn’t until the Canadian Medical Association posted on Monday March 25th, 2019, that one of the many contributing factors found within the survey to the First Nations deteriorating mental and physical health is food insecurity and malnutrition. Many First Nations in Canada have little to no access to good quality or nutritious food. As a result, more than half of First Nations children are malnourished and at risk of developing diet-related chronic illnesses such as Type-2 diabetes. The historical experiences associated with colonization has left many Indigenous communities “cut off from their culture including food and nutrition.
Income inequalities are huge contributing factors in suicidal behaviours amongst the First Nations, especially those living off-reserve in Canada. Food insecurities among low-income Indigenous peoples living off reserve have been statistically linked with psychological distress. Dr. Lisa Richardson, a strategic advisor in the Faculty of Medicine at University of Toronto and an Indigenous physician herself, told CBC news that, “In this era of reconciliation, what are specific, concrete measures that one can take? This paper has given us an opportunity to do it, because we need to address food security. People need access to healthy meals,” (CBC News). She said that “modern scientific methodology doesn’t capture the resilience and protective butter from Indigenous culture, language and community connections. But those don’t matter if someone is hungry” (CBC News). Many issues such as species extinction is also a contributing risk to First Nations foods security, however, for those living off-reserve, their income is all they can rely on for nutrition. Currently, many heads of state such as BC are doing their best to budget in water systems to reduce the First Nations water crisis—an issue also contributing to the inequality and subsiding mental health of the First Nations populations in Canada. If policies are also designed to address major contributing factors such as food insecurity, it may help reduce the inequalities and increase the scope for positive mental health amongst the First Nations population in Canada.
It is crucial for Canadians to realize their privilege in relation to food security. Many of the Indigenous living off reserve are middle to lower class, similar to non- Indigenous who also suffer from malnutrition and low-income. However, the Indigenous population still statistically has poorer health outcomes than non- Indigenous in Canada; a statistic that the Canadian Medical Association compares to “those of populations in developing countries” (CMAJ). Poorer individuals will inevitably have low quality of nourishment and experience higher psychological distress. The Canadian Medical Association Journal uncovered that, “During the period between 1991 and 2001, the Indigenous to non-Indigenous suicide mortality rate ratio was 1.60 for Métis men, 0.85 for Métis women, 1.66 for status First Nations men and 1.86 for status First Nations women. Suicide rates among the Inuit, which are among the highest in the world, are up to 10 times higher than the overall rate for Canada” (CMAJ).
There are many ways that Canadians can get involved to petition for better policies enacted regarding food security for the First Nations living off-reserve. Check out different projects such as the First Nations Nutrition Program as part of Canadian Feed the Children. As well as the FNFNES, and many more programs to get involved and donate to reduce food insecurity! Help create more awareness to improve the quality of food for the First Nations and demolish inequality!