Canada's Indigenous populations continuously demonstrate great strength and resilience. However, these communities face greater health challenges than most, including an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is a result of several overlapping and compounded factors, including Canada’s historic and continued colonial policies, such as residential schools, Indian hospitals, and the 60’s scoop; lack of access to healthy, nutritious, and affordable food; and a strong genetic risk for type 2 diabetes. These intersecting factors have severely undermined Indigenous values, culture, and spiritual practices, while creating lasting physical, mental, emotional, and social harms for these communities.
Diabetes has affected communities greatly. Here’s a snapshot of the age-standardized prevalence rates of diabetes (type 1 and type 2):
- 17.2% among First Nations individuals living on-reserve,
- 12.7% among First Nations individuals living off-reserve,
- 4.7% among Inuit people, and
- 9.9% among Métis people, compared to 5.0% in the general population.
Indigenous peoples are diagnosed with diabetes at a younger age, have more severe symptoms when diagnosed, face higher rates of complications, and experience poorer treatment outcomes.
There are many barriers that affect the care that Indigenous peoples receive. These impact the frequency and ability of people to manage their diabetes well. These barriers include fragmented health-care, a lack of culturally appropriate care, poor chronic disease management, high health-care staff turnover, chronic underfunding of health services for Indigenous communities, and limited tracking of new diabetes cases. Western medicine does not incorporate traditional healings or medicine and does not resonate with traditional knowledge and/or wellness. Social and economic inequalities, which were brought about by colonization, including oppression, cultural erosion, forced relocation, forced assimilation, and institutionalized racism, have impacted Indigenous people’s health. These inequalities also contribute to the main risk factors associated with the development of type 2 diabetes and its complications.
Diabetes Canada is committed to helping reduce the burden of diabetes in Indigenous communities in a culturally appropriate manner. We firmly commit to do so in ways that respect and uphold the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. This means committing to working to ensure that any actions taken by the organization do not harm Indigenous groups, and that they help to repair the harms caused by Canada’s historic and continued colonial systems. Diabetes Canada is committed to listening to and working alongside Indigenous-led organizations to develop trust and build relationships based on respect and dignity. We wish to support Indigenous-led initiatives, interventions, and policy development in whatever way these organizations see fit.
Currently, Diabetes Canada is working with Indigenous groups to support the new and ongoing work they are doing within their communities. We have also spoken with leaders from Indigenous Groups who have advised us on how to proceed with relationship building and have worked to connect us to other interested organizations/individuals.
Diabetes Canada, along with more than 120 stakeholders, has developed a Canadian-wide strategy to coordinate the efforts underway in all provinces and territories to combat diabetes: Diabetes 360°. The strategy promotes the adoption of global best practices to reduce the human burden of this rapidly escalating disease and the unsustainable pressure on the health-care system. Acknowledging the unique experiences of Indigenous communities, the strategy supports the need for unique tailored approaches led by Indigenous Peoples to reduce the burden of diabetes.
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