First Nations leaders are looking for ways to promote safe swimming, snowmobiling and ATV riding after learning that injuries and deaths are more common in their communities.

The Canadian Paediatric Society recently reported aboriginal youth are four times more likely to be injured during those types of activities.

The report comes on the heels of a serious ATV accident involving a12-year-old First Nations boy. The chain of events has convinced members of the Wabun Tribal Council — which represents six First Nations near Timmins — to spend more time teaching safety.

Wabun Tribal health director Jean Lemieux said she applies her culture’s "seven grandfather" teachings about good safety habits.

"One of the seven grandfather teachings is respect," Lemieux said.

"You have to earn that respect ... and [these teachings show] how you do it."

Other groups are finding culturally specific ways to teach safety, including the Red Cross.

Red Cross instructor Maureen O'Neill designed a swimming safety program for aboriginal youth.

O'Neill said she links different parts of the lesson with the different colours of the First Nation’s medicine wheel.

"The white, yellow, red, [and] black has a strong message for those communities," she said.

O'Neill added some communities don't have access to safety equipment or lessons because of poverty. She noted more awareness about the issue is needed — as well as funding to promote safety training and to purchase safety equipment.

Why more injuries?

The reasons for the disproportionate risk of injury among Indigenous children and youth are numerous and complex.

According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous families tend to have lower incomes, less education and higher unemployment compared with other Canadians, while being generally younger and more likely to live in a rural area. They are also likelier to live in unsafe, substandard housing, and to encounter local shortages in health care personnel and resources.

Historical inequities, cultural alienation and loss of connectedness with the environment, as well as the grim legacy of residential schools, have contributed to depression, to alcohol and substance abuse and associated risk-taking behaviors, and to inadequate parenting skills for some.

Alcohol is a significant contributor to motor vehicle collisions, lack of seat belt use and drowning incidents.

The lack of culturally appropriate or targeted IP programs continues to be a barrier. Rural Indigenous children and youth have not benefitted to the same degree as other Canadians from vehicle safety (e.g., car seat, seat belt) programs or campaigns against impaired driving, nor from swimming lessons, first aid/CPR training or even the enforcement of existing safety laws.

- Excerpt from Canadian Paediatric Society report