Mac students lead health conference

HAMILTON – Did you know that Indigenous people are Canada’s fastest growing population?

Also, did you know that only one quarter of the First Nations population living in Hamilton reported excellent or very good health in 2011?

These are questions that a team of students from McMaster University asked themselves when they began planning the McMaster Indigenous Health Conference 2016 (MacIHC). The conference hopes to educate the public on several health topics that Indigenous people face Canada wide.

“We really want people to start thinking about these issues,” said Sharon Yeung, co-chair of administration for MacIHS. “A lot of our peers haven’t had a lot of exposure to the topic of Indigenous health.”

Many students at McMaster University may become medical practitioners in the future, and Christa Jonathan, the team’s external relations liaison, feels that it’s important for them to learn the different health issues Indigenous people have compared to other people groups in Canada.

“As an Indigenous person, I’m three to five times more likely to be at risk for any chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure,” said Jonathan. “Merely for the fact that I am Indigenous.”

Jonathan said she has seen her community and others be put on boiled water advisories in the past and that many in Ontario are still on this advisory. This means that during those times people cannot drink their own water without first boiling it or importing some from elsewhere.

“It’s almost like every health statistic you look at, Indigenous people are at the negative end of it,” said Jonathan.

There have been several studies in the past few years that support these statements.

In 2013, a study from Statistic Canada stated that the average mortality rate in Nunavut between 2009 and 2011 was 18.5 deaths per 1 000 live births. This rate is more than three times higher than the national average.

“Even if some individuals are aware of the statistics, it’s also about how health professionals address those issues,” said Deepti Shanbhag, co-chair of communications for MacIHC. Instead of blaming the victims for their own health conditions, Deepti said she wanted to “break down stereotypes in how these issues are addressed.”

The conference aims to enlighten people on why health issues of Indigenous individuals differ so much than other people groups. It comes down to several different issues, including — what kinds of food are available to them and what kind of housing is available to them.

“It comes down to health and other circumstantial factors that all play a role,” said Yeung.

The student-led conference is taking place on Saturday, Jan.16. The team is bringing in several guest speakers, clinicians, researchers and educators who will focus on the many different elements of Indigenous health. Also, there will be workshops throughout the day where group participation and feedback is welcomed.

Tickets for the conference are $10 and can be bought online at

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