A new Statistics Canada report paints a disturbing picture of the quality and length of life for aboriginal people in this country.

It finds First Nations adults have more than twice the risk of dying under the age of 75 from avoidable causes than non-aboriginal people.

Many are hoping the report will send a message during this federal election campaign.

Brian Maybee lives on the street in Winnipeg, and he is a living example of what the report talks about. He has cancer, a respiratory illness and substance-abuse issues. 

"They said as long as I keep doing this and smoking, I'm going to be dead before I'm 50 and I'm 41, almost 42," said Maybee, still wearing his bracelet from his most recent hospital admission.

Avoidable causes, lack of action

Brian Maybee

A new report out from Statistics Canada finds First Nations adults have more than twice the risk of dying from avoidable causes than non-aboriginal people. Brian Maybee says he is close to becoming one of those statistics. (CBC)

Statistics Canada researchers looked at 15 years of data as part of the report. In some cases, researchers found the risk of death for First Nations men and women was five times that of non-indigenous Canadians. Those carrying the highest risk were in the youngest age groups.

Avoidable causes of death include injury and diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and breast cancer. These are illnesses that can be treated successfully through early detection and screening.

Other contributing factors to an early death include alcohol and drug abuse, education and income levels and access to health-care services.


  • This study involved 61,000 First Nations and 2.5 million non-indigenous Canadians between the ages of 25 to 74.
  • It excludes people who weren't enumerated in the 1991 long-form census.
  • In Canada, avoidable mortality represents 70 per cent of all deaths that occur before age 75.

"As a researcher, I have to wonder how many reports do we need until we ask for action," asks Josée Lavoie, head of the Centre for Aboriginal Health Research at the University of Manitoba.

Josée Lavoie

Josée Lavoie, head of the Centre for Aboriginal Health Research at the University of Manitoba, has seen the factors leading to unhealthy and short lives for aboriginal people. (CBC)

Lavoie says these statistics are "the results of racism, the legacy of residential school, and the decades of neglect of the on-reserve infrastructure.

"To me, water, housing, health care on reserve are a priority, and food security. Off reserve, we need to look at equitable access and respectful access to care."

Election issue

Lavoie blames generations of neglect by all levels of government for the elevated health risks faced by Indigenous Peoples. She'd like to see this become an issue in the current federal election.

'They don't care about us here, they just wish we'd all disappear.' - Brian Maybee

"Unless we're prepared to pressure our politicians to invest in First Nation health, we're not going to see changes," says Lavoie.

That's part of the message at an information session on Wednesday in Winnipeg's Indian and Metis Friendship Centre. It was put on by the Southern Chiefs Organization.

Grand Chief Terrance Nelson wants to see aboriginal people vote so politicians will take issues like this more seriously.

"We want to make every candidate understand that we are going to be out there voting, and they will vote for the people that are actually dealing with their issues," Nelson said.

Back on the streets, Maybee doesn't have hope that anything will change for him or his friends. He doesn't think Canadians or politicians are paying attention.

"They don't care about us here, they just wish we'd all disappear," said Maybee.

With files from CBC's Karen Pauls