‘They’re struggling’: New study highlights health and well-being gap for First Nations children

WINNIPEG — The health of First Nations children in Manitoba is lagging far behind other children in the province according to a new study.

The study released Wednesday called ‘Our Children, Our Future: The Health and Well-Being of First Nations Children in Manitoba’ is a joint project by the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, and the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.

“It takes a village to raise a child, and I say this village called the province and federal government is failing, but it’s never too late to start,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. 

The study looks at a number of areas including mental health, education, and social services. 

“It shows how poorly things are being done for our young people, and they’re struggling with all the trauma from the residential schools to day-schools, everything that they’ve done,” said Chief Sheldon Kent, the chair of the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba. 

“We’re still living through these traumas.”

Dr. Mariette Chartier with the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy said the main question they wanted to answer in this report is: how are First Nations children doing in Manitoba?

The study analyzed anonymous data from 2012 to 2017 comparing 62,000 registered First Nations children and about 279,000 other Manitoba children. 

“We found huge gaps between their outcomes – First Nations children’s outcomes – and the outcomes of other children in Manitoba,” said Chartier. “Overall, we found that First Nations children living off-reserve had better outcomes than children on reserve.”

The report found First Nations children are twice as likely to drop out of high school. It also showed the rate of dental surgeries is 28 times higher, and 20 times more First Nations children have diabetes. 

The children analyzed also have a four times higher rate of schizophrenia and five times higher rate of substance use disorders. It showed they are eight times more likely to witness a crime and six times as likely to be the victim of a crime. 

The report also showed seven times as many First Nations children are taken into the Child Welfare System. However that number is lower for those living on reserve. 

“While the results of almost all the indicators show deficits as far as the outcomes for First Nations are concerned, I know that there is hope and there are positives out there,” said Dr. Nora Murdock with the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre. 

The study was done for the Manitoba Government as part of its response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. It’s the first of its kind in the province and will provide a baseline going forward. 

Some of the calls to action from the report include:

  • Ensuring First Nations children have equitable access to all provincially funded health and social services;
  • Funding and support for culturally appropriate education; and
  • Overhauling the Child Welfare System.

A provincial spokesperson told CTV News this report will help track progress toward a better future for First Nations children in Manitoba. 

“The factors that impact the health and well-being of First Nations children are varied, interrelated and complex and work to improve the health and well-being of children involves a multifaceted approach that includes many stakeholders and systems,” said the spokesperson in an email.

The spokesperson said the province will be reviewing the findings with ‘great interest’ over the days to come. 

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