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Native Health Problems Are Not Solved With A Prescription


At the beginning of this year, the BC government held a conference on aboriginal healt.

At the beginning of this year, the BC government held a conference on aboriginal health. Mary Thomas, an 84-year-old elder from the Neskonlith band near Salmon Arm, BC, told the conference that BC's native peoples are a "very sick race, physically, mentally and socially."

Aboriginal people are putting too many toxic substances in their bodies, Mary Thomas said, while the historical environment is disintegrating before their eyes.

The heartbreaking issue of the deterioration of aboriginal health has been ignored in the wrangle over ancient treaties and native land claims, and not just in BC. It's a national disgrace. The truth is, a few more years of the shocking genocide of aboriginals in Canada will take care of the native/government/people disputes.

Suicide rates are three times higher among aboriginals than the general population, and diminishing health and epidemic diseases as the result of impoverishment, malnutrition and alcohol and drug abuse exist across the country. Meanwhile Canadian governments at all levels are trying to steer a political course through native land claims and deteriorating aboriginal health that will keep as many mouths shut as possible.

Native elders are not given a legitimate voice in the national press regarding their own health and well-being and often do not have a voice even among their own people (most of whom have been brought up on the white man's Coke and white bread.) Those like Mary have something real to say. She has documented the traditional medical uses of Secwepemc plants used in her native diet and medicine over the past decade. "But we're fighting a losing battle," she mourns. "Some root medicines are almost extinct. It's pitiful."

In place of traditional barks, berries, leaves and roots, orthodox medicine offers chemicals.

The reason for the nationwide disaster of the food supply for these "First" people is euphemistically referred to by government as "cultural appropriation." Industrial development has destroyed both wild food and the indigenous medicine of roots, leaves, barks and berries in entire communities. And no one has come forward to teach aboriginals how to live healthily in the white man's world--which is now their world, too.

Statistics are shocking. Mortality in native infants less than one year is four times higher than the provincial average, according the Aboriginal Health Association of BC. Heart disease and stroke is 60 per cent higher. Diabetes and tuberculosis is multiplied by five times.

HIV/AIDS is twice as prevalent among aboriginals as the general population, and older aboriginal women suffer hip fractures at a rate seven times higher than non-aboriginal women of the same age. According to a BC government health policy medical analyst, aboriginals are 12 times less likely to visit a family doctor than non-aboriginals yet five times more likely to use an acute care facility!

Similar statistics exist in your own province. Check it out.

Dr. Miles Kilshaw, speaking to the all-white conference of 200 health workers said recently, "Aboriginal people should be able to tell us what they need and when they need it." (Medical Post, Feb. 19, 2002)

I guess, not! They don't know what they need because they've never been taught the basics of nutrition.

Native populations no longer know about their own healing traditions. What they do know is Valium, Atavan, Paxil and Prozac, of which about 25 per cent more was prescribed to aboriginals in 2001 than in 1996. These drugs are devastating to an already undernourished and socially depressed people.

Health Canada bureaucrats won't admit that the shocking statistics of health problems among the aboriginals are more acute than in the rest of what is called a "social services population" (people on welfare). They are primarily concerned about the high costs of aboriginal health to the health-care system!

Mary is right. The health of any people is in maintaining the integrity of the food supply. Governments and health workers need to put aside politics and address the mineral and vitamin deficiencies epidemic in native communities. And the likes of Dr. Kilshaw need to be educated themselves before they're hired to teach others.



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