The Health of Native Women in Quebec

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Prudence Hannis

Quebec Native Women (QNW) is a non-profit organization representing over 3,000 women from Quebec First Nations, whether or not they live on reserves. Since it was founded in 1974, the QNW has worked extensively on the political and socio-economic fronts, focusing particularly on justice, the promotion of non-violence, employment, and, since January 2001, health.

From the very start, the QNW’s main theme has been equality between the sexes—economically, socially, legally and politically—in addition to campaigning for more equilibrium between the living conditions of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. According to reports on the healthcare situation of Aboriginal women, the importance of maintaining these objectives becomes even more obvious. An extensive examination of the documentation on the health of Aboriginal women, a project carried out with the support of the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health—Consortium Université de Montréal (CESAF), produced a number of findings attesting to the many problems that Aboriginal women in Quebec face to varying degrees. The document, entitled Femmes autochtones et santé : un état de la situation (Aboriginal Women and Health: An Assessment), has two specific objectives: to be a basic reference on the different aspects of Aboriginal women’s health and to pique the interest of decision makers regarding issues affecting Aboriginal women. This document was based on the Health Determinants approach, as developed by Health Canada. This approach is especially interesting in that it allows us to consider the many factors that may contribute to or adversely affect the well-being of women and the maintenance of their health. From this perspective, this exercise in awareness falls within, by definition, a greater context and exceeds the very field of healthcare, extending to more general social issues, social inequalities, socio-economic conditions and, in particular, the quality of life of Aboriginal women.

The highlights emerging from this progress report showed the necessity of promoting an overall community and multidisciplinary approach for healthcare programs and services, of attacking head-on the real causes behind the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, community and family health problems from a perspective of long-term action and of enhancing the status of Aboriginal culture and traditional practices while promoting cultural sensitivity, a sound social environment through different support measures, approaches and services that specifically respond to the needs of women, as well as developing approaches that promote family integration. Mental health, putting an end to violence, promoting health, optimizing resources, cultural recovery and family health are among the priorities on which specific actions must be taken.

The current challenges of improving the health of Aboriginal women, their children and their communities are manifold and can only be resolved if we first work on the problems at the heart of the matter—more specifically lack of prevention, education and health promotion programs, inadequacy of programs and real requirements of the people, a work overload for all involved, lack of coordination and consultation, rigid rules for programs and services, lack of long-term programs and activities, problems with accessibility and availability of services and resources, lack of cultural sensitivity, lack of resources specific to women and complicated procedures for obtaining services due especially to a lack of skills.

Fifteen recommendations were made to present to the various decision makers regarding the health of the First Nations:

  1. that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal governments implement policies, programs and plans of action aimed at fighting poverty among Aboriginal women by promoting access to education and decent working conditions, as well as ensuring pay equity, income security and access to decent housing;

  2. that the Federal and provincial governments continuously support the government programs and/or community initiatives set up to help families;

  3. that governments facilitate and support initiatives to inform people about the healthcare needs, concerns and priorities of Aboriginal women by reflecting them in the government and community policies and programs;

  4. that governments promote interdepartmental consultation by integrating Aboriginal groups;

  5. that governments remedy any administrative and legal impediments to service access;

  6. that governments promote and recognize alternative approaches to service provision. In order to do this, we must remove structural obstacles that hinder the recognition and implementation of services that are culturally adapted, specifically adapted to the actual needs of the people and coming from the communities, especially by ensuring more flexibility as to financing community initiatives;

  7. that we support the development of training programs aimed at the development of community expertise in healthcare;

  8. that the development of intercultural education be supported;

  9. that government subsidize research into the health of Aboriginal women based on their diversity;

  10. that funds be earmarked in on a recurrent basis to develop programs, tools and methods aimed at furthering and intensifying the promotion of health through prevention, awareness and education based on the requirements identified by the Aboriginal communities and organizations and on the diversity of women;

  11. that a truly holistic approach to health is developed, by studying the development of a work setting that allows consultation that would lead to remedying the compartmentalization of services;

  12. that governments and Aboriginal organizations support the development of the expertise of Quebec Native Women regarding health;

  13. that programs and services be designed based on a long-term perspective and that financing be granted accordingly;

  14. that governments be committed to eliminating shortcomings in terms of material, financial and human resources that hinder the quality of service provision;

  15. that the leadership of Aboriginal women be supported and promoted by including them in the decision making process.

Quebec Native Women is committed to defending the interests of Quebec’s Aboriginal women regarding health and to continue increasing the awareness of the government decision makers and First Nations.

Femmes autochtones et santé : un état de la situation will be translated into and published in English in the near future.

Prudence Hannis is the Health Coordinator for Quebec Native Women.

New from Quebec Native Women (QNW)

"The four insights from Mali Pili Kizos" is a qualitative research project done with 12 Aboriginal women of Quebec who were students of residential schools. The emphasis is on moving beyond victimization and learning about successes in the women’s healing journeys. The four major themes that guided the work are: resilience capacity, survival strategies, turning points, and steps they took to repair the trauma and to maintain balance. Phase two of the project intends to bring the women together again to help heal wounds that could have been opened by telling their stories. An article describing the project appears in the magazine of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Healing Words, Vol.3, No.2, Winter 2001. A report is available from QNW.

QNW has begun research on the Quebec midwifery legislation and its impact on Aboriginal midwifery practices. The research will also give an up-to-date picture of Aboriginal midwifery in Quebec. The long-term goal is to help create a working group to represent First Nations midwives. Results are expected to be available in June 2002.

A report is now available from QNW on their ‘Apitendemowin’ project, a seminar on the issue of sexual abuse in the Aboriginal milieu. ‘Apitendemowin’ is an Algonquin word meaning ‘treat someone with much respect and consideration.’ The report includes not only 41 recommendations to government and community services, but also extensive references and descriptions of existing programs and services. Contact QNW for a copy of the report.

In collaboration with l’Institut national de recherche scientifique – Urbanisation, culture et société, QNW has produced a research report on employment solutions for Aboriginal women. Aboriginal Women and Jobs: Challenges and Issues for Employability Programs in Quebec is available through Status of Women Canada and may be downloaded at

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[New address, Feb. 22, 2005 - ed.]