Nova Scotia

First Nations mistrust health system, Dalhousie researchers say

First Nations people mistrust the Canadian health-care system, and that harms their health, according to two researchers.

Some aboriginal people embrace more holistic approach to health

First Nations people mistrust the Canadian health-care system, and that harms their health, according to two researchers.

"There is nervousness, a distrust historically, in going to health services where people from their own community aren't represented," Fred Wein, a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University's School of Social Work, told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

"The environment is often not congenial in terms of the artwork, the brochures and so on. And one of the unfortunate results of that is that diagnosis tends to be later on, in terms of its progression, and so the chances of recovery are less."

In two recent cases, aboriginal families have pulled their daughters out of cancer treatment, in favour of alternative treatment. Earlier this month, a judge sided with the family of an 11-year-old aboriginal girl from Brantford, Ont., after doctors tried to force the family to put the girl back into chemotherapy.

In that case, a bigger factor than mistrust may be that aboriginal people often have a more holistic idea of health and wellness than the typical Western medicine model, said Amy Bombay, an assistant professor in Dalhousie's School of Nursing and department of psychiatry.

Bombay is Ojibway, and her research focuses on the legacy of residential schools. 

"A lot of the distrust stems from the historical treatment of aboriginal peoples, and their trust of institutions and mainstream services," she said.

But attempts to force parents into treatment that clashes with their cultural values is a strong echo of the residential school system, she said.

And aboriginal people are constantly reminded of that as the child welfare system continues to take aboriginal children away from parents and put them in foster care for sometimes questionable reasons, she said.

A lot of research shows that aboriginal people continue to face racism and discrimination, she said. Sometimes they face that discrimination when they try to access health care, and that discourages them.

Some aboriginal communities have created their own community health centres, in an attempt to battle the problem, and have become more involved in health research. 

And while there are a lot of people in the Aboriginal Affairs Department who recognize the problem, Bombay said, "I think we still have a long way to go, to convince them that it's a really important issue that is going to need some investment and some changes in the way we approach health care for aboriginal people."