In 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted its definition for health as “the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being1“, moving away from a narrower definition that simply defined it as “the absence of illness2“.

In 1986, the first International Conference on Health Promotion was held to respond to growing expectations for a new public health movement around the world. The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion defined health as “a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living3”.

These definitions and their emphasis on social factors and conditions are fairly similar to what First Nations in Canada have long advocated for––a holistic view of health grounded in the teachings of the medicine wheel.

For a number of years, Health Canada has been advocating for a population health approach that would be based on social determinants of health4 including:

  • Income and social status
  • Social support networks
  • Education and literacy
  • Employment/working conditions
  • Social environments
  • Physical and built environments
  • Personal health practices and coping skills
  • Healthy child development
  • Biology and genetic endowment
  • Health services
  • Gender
  • Culture

While the indicators presented in this report do not cover each of the social determinants of health identified above, they represent the information that was accessible. This includes information on a wide range of indicators such as demographics, vital statistics, health indicators and several socio-economic factors.

  • Aboriginal peoples refer to the “descendants of the original inhabitants of North America. The Canadian Constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal people – Indians, Métis and Inuit”. Therefore, when data are identified as being provided for non-Aboriginal individuals, First Nation, Métis and Inuit responses provided would be excluded.
  • First Nations “came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the word ‘Indian’. Although the term is widely used, no legal definition exists”.

Source: Terminology, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

This report is meant to be a resource for health planning. Using a population health approach, most indicators provide information on First Nations in Alberta and are compared with non-Aboriginal or non-First Nations populations, or the whole population of Alberta and Canada.

In most cases, the data provided are specific to First Nations in Alberta, however in some instances the information could not be accessed. In those instances, data about First Nations in Canada were used. In rare circumstances, when First Nations-specific data could not be obtained, Aboriginal data were used.

This report and its accompanying presentation have been circulated in draft form and discussed with key stakeholders and decision-makers in First Nations organizations and governments at many forums in 2008. These conversations have enhanced the content and been beneficial in identifying topics of interest.

1World Health Organization website – Glossary

2World Health Organization website – Glossary

3Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, 1986

4Public Health Agency of Canada website