Promoting the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being of First Nations.

Our Work We work with caregivers, policymakers and communities in support of First Nations holistic health.

Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately affected by disability, addictions, and mental health issues. Combined with the impacts of the pandemic, First Nations are faced with health challenges at a higher rate than other Canadian communities. The AFN Health Sector works to advocate for equitable, self-determined health care, and to promote holistic, culturally-based approaches to supporting First Nations wellness.

Indigenous Peoples are affected by disability 20‑50% more than non-Indigenous people.

According to Statistics Canada, roughly one in three First Nations and Métis people living off-reserve have a disability.

First Nations people are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic conditions.

56% of First Nations people report being diagnosed with one or more chronic conditions, compared with 48% of other Canadians.

Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by mental health challenges.

For example, suicide rates among First Nations people is estimated at five to six times higher than non-Indigenous populations.

First Nations seniors are at higher risk of social isolation than other seniors.

Among Indigenous seniors in cities, 23% are found to have low income compared with 13% of non-Indigenous seniors.

Initiatives & Priorities The policy areas, initiatives and committees driving change in First Nations health and wellness.

Seven Generations Continuum of Care

The Seven Generations Continuum of Care Resolution 19/2019 continues to be a guiding principle for the AFN Health Sector. It directs our work and influences our counterparts to dismantle the conventional siloed program-by-program approaches and build a continuum of supports and services and address long-standing and growing gaps for continuing care for First Nations. Its vision captures wellness as being interconnected with health, social and economic well-being, and continued care for First Nations as they age and as their care needs change.

Currently, the AFN Health Sector is working with our partners to ensure the federal government’s aim of revising the Home and Community Care and Long-term Care policy programs reflect a culturally grounded, wholistic, two-eyed seeing approach of care that appropriately supports First Nations individuals, families and communities as their needs are varied, unique and will evolve throughout the lifespan.

The AFN Health Sector will continue to advocate for a wholistic model which is accessible across all dimensions, built around the individual and community, governed by First Nations, collaborative and integrated into the broader health care system, ensuring health, social and economic well-being, culturally safe, emending traditional medicine as an integral aspect of care, maintainable and sustainable for the following Seven Generations, and has the data and information needed to effectively manage and evaluate services.

Mental Health

The mental wellness of First Nations is a high priority of the Health Sector; one that encompasses file areas which work to address our colonial traumas. Foundational to this work is the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework which provides First Nations with a tool to help guide their approaches to wellness. The Continuum is also used to guide work and discussions on life promotion and suicide prevention by instilling a sense of hope, belonging, meaning, and purpose.

In addition to the Continuum, the Health sector focuses their work on substance mis/use by using the Honouring Our Strengths Framework as a roadmap to address all substances that impact communities. Both frameworks highlight the importance of culture as a foundation for wellness.

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program (IRS RHSP) is a program born out of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement that is meant to provide mental health and emotional support to Survivors and their families. In Budget 2021, funding for the IRS RHSP was extended to 2024. The Health sector continues to advocate for a stronger commitment from Canada in supporting Indian Residential Schools Survivors and their families.

Work in this area is guided by the expertise of First Nations partners, Thunderbird Partnership Foundation and First Peoples Wellness Circle. The Health Sector is also guided by the Mental Wellness Committee which is a national committee that provides technical expertise and knowledge on national, regional and community level health issues surrounding mental health, addictions and related issues.

COVID-19

The AFN Health Sector has been guided by Resolution 03/2020: Addressing Priority Concerns and Needs of First Nations Around COVID-19 and the COVID-19 Task Force Working Group to support First Nations’ response to the pandemic. This work has been critical, especially since the pandemic has disproportionately impacted First Nations and exacerbated the socioeconomic and health burdens they continue to experience.

The role of the AFN Health Sector throughout the pandemic has been to facilitate communication and advocate with all governments for planning, preparation, and response measures that address the unique and diverse needs of First Nations across Canada. This has meant that federal, provincial and territorial governments meaningfully engage with First Nations to understand vaccine prioritization, the provision of personal protective equipment, the development of culturally-appropriate public health messaging, and addressing the acute and ongoing health human resource shortages faced by many communities. Public health supports and advocacy are critical as the pandemic continues to affect the lives and livelihoods of First Nations.

Leadership, along with capacity building for community-driven solutions, have been significant throughout the many waves of the pandemic. Moving toward pandemic recovery, understanding community-based lessons learned and solutions will be necessary to inform how best to respond to future public health outbreaks and emergencies. As part of this information gathering, the AFN Health Sector has produced the following documents:

First Nations Accessibility Law

The AFN is mandated by national resolutions to engage with First Nations in the development of a Distinct First Nations Accessibility Law, and to advocate for First Nations persons of all abilities (disabilities).

The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) received Royal Accent in 2019, and in 2026, First Nations will be subject to the ACA. In 2021, the first set of ACA regulations came into force and a five-year exemption period was allocated for engagements with First Nations on the application of the ACA.

In 2017 the AFN began engagements with First Nations persons with disabilities and First Nations governments to seek direction regarding the ACA legislative priorities and legal options for First Nations to consider in the development of a distinct First Nations accessibility law. The AFN has shared with First Nations a draft Distinct First Nations Accessibility Law Discussion Guide and a combined survey during recent dialogues. The ACA focuses on:

  • employment
  • the built environment (i.e., office buildings, homes, public facilities,
  • information and communications,
  • procurement,
  • transportation and,
  • the design of programs and services.

The AFN is working to establish the organization as a model of accessibility for First Nations including the inaugural introduction of sign language launched at the Annual General Assembly in July 2022, by First Nations deaf advocates. The AFN is advocating the federal government for major investments to address the broad priorities set out in the ACA and to secure resources for ongoing dialogues with First Nations.

Documents The latest resources on this topic.

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These are our latest reports, resolutions and other documents on the subject of Health & Wellness. To see more documents on this topic, and all other public AFN documents, visit the Document Library.

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