Colonial Policies Responsible for Toronto's Indigenous Dying Young


In Toronto, a "mecca for health and social services," according to Dr. Chandrakant Shah, the average person lives to age 75. But the average age of death for an Aboriginal person in the city is only 37 years. For Aboriginal men, it's just 34 years.

The reason? The trauma from colonial and post-colonial policies—assimilation, systematic discrimination and cultural disruption—is literally killing Toronto's indigenous. "I call this a delayed tsunami effect," says Shah. "People have to have a sense of identity and empowerment."

These are the finding of a new report by Anishnawbe Health Toronto, a center dedicated to improving the health and well-being of Aboriginal people in spirit, mind, emotion and body by providing traditional healing within a multi-disciplinary health care model. Entitled "Early deaths among members of Toronto’s Aboriginal community," the report used a sample of the population: 109 people who used community health and social services in Toronto. Shah reached the conclusion that Aboriginals are being robbed of their identity, suffering and dying young.

Shah describes it as the "broken heart syndrome": "It was [the deceased’s] loneliness for his true identity, like not knowing anything about who his people really are because his family and his parents and his traditions were all lost."

Many of Toronto's Indigenous who died in their 30s were uneducated, lacked adequate housing, and couldn't maintain stable employment. To cope, many sought solace in a bottle or with drugs. [The deceased told me], "I went to residential school and the things that happened there—I can’t even talk about...that’s why I drank so much. I just couldn’t be a father," the report quotes.

Shah, 78, came to Canada from India in 1965, and began working as a pediatrician before moving into the public health sector, reported Vice.com. His hope is that reports like his for Anishnawbe Health Toronto will encourage the Canadian population at large to educate themselves on indigenous issues. "If you have no knowledge of the impact of Residential Schools or the 60s scoop, you don’t have empathy," he told Vice.com. "If you don’t have empathy, you don’t have good policies and programs."

When Anishnawbe Health Toronto presented their findings to the Toronto City Council, councilors "were pretty shocked," said Dr. Rajbir Klair, one of the reports’ authors. "Especially if you think we are in the Toronto area and have access to services."

The report authors are advocating for "a multi-year plan with defined and measurable outcomes for public education, an employment strategy and for Aboriginals to be better represented on city agencies, boards and corporations," reported CTVNews.com.