Health care

Region: Ontario Answer # 0663

The following information has been provided with the assistance of Lakehead University Faculty of Law, Aboriginal Law Studies.

What is Indigenous health?

Pre-contact First Nations enjoyed a healthy and active lifestyle based on traditional diets. An aspect known as traditional healing is a dominant and important factor in Indigenous health and healing. The importance of Indigenous health is recognized in a culturally appropriate manner in the provision of many health care services and programs.

The Indian Act (1876) provided the following dictates for First Nations Health:

“The Governor in Council may make regulations:

  • to prevent, mitigate and control the spread of infectious diseases on reserves, whether or not the diseases are infectious or communicable;
  • to provide medical treatment and health service for Indians;
  • to provide compulsory hospitalization and treatment for infectious diseases among Indians.”

However, the Indian Act has not been able to recognize the importance of Indigenous approaches to health and healing in a number of areas, including but not limited to: special healers, health circles, medicine wheels, special medicines, spiritual care, etc. This has led to a resurgence in some cooperative partnerships between Indigenous communities and health care professionals.

Modern health issues in Indigenous communities

Many health issues are becoming more prominent in Indigenous communities, including:

  • Suicide, anxiety, depression and other mental health related issues;
  • Diabetes;
  • Under-nourishment / malnourishment;
  • High blood pressure; and/or
  • Overall poor health

Many of these mental and physical health issues have grown since colonization.

Important legislation and statutes

Indian Act

Section 35 of the Indian Act recognizes and affirms Aboriginal rights. It has been argued successfully in a 2015 Ontario Court of justice case named Hamilton Health Sciences Corp. v. H. (D.) that an Aboriginal right includes the right to pursue traditional Aboriginal medicine. One of the core tenets of Aboriginal culture includes the right to decide their own method in meeting their health needs. Aboriginal people have the right to use their own traditional medicines in health practices just as other people in Ontario.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Article 24 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that:

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices, including the conservation of their vital medicinal plants, animals and minerals. Indigenous individuals also have the right to access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services.
  2. Indigenous individuals have an equal right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. States shall take the necessary steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of this right.

Ontario Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991

It is important to note that Aboriginal healers and midwives are exemptions under section 35 of the Ontario Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991, whereby an “Aboriginal healer” means an Aboriginal person who provides traditional healing services and an “Aboriginal midwife” means an aboriginal person who provides traditional midwifery services.

Where to find help

There are organizations and community based programs that advocate and promote the empowerment of Indigenous peoples in determining cultural appropriate strategies to recognize and address their own health care needs. For more information, refer to the Government of Canada, Indigenous Health website, or visit our Links.


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