A much-awaited study on the health of the Crees has been released. It all began in 1989 with meetings between the Quebec Health Ministry and the Cree Health Board. The mandate was given: Find out the state of the Crees’ well-being.

So Crees were trained in Montreal on how to conduct interviews for what would turn out to be the most comprehensive survey ever done on our health. The heads of 354 households were interviewed (usually the woman), covering about 1,000 adults and 1,000 children. This massive survey has now resulted in a full-scale report called, “A Health Profile of the Crees.”

What the results of the survey show, says James Bobbish in the introduction to the report, is that aside from high infant mortality rates, Crees were much healthier before modem conveniences, living in towns and eating store-bought food and all the social and cultural upheaval that has come with these new things.

Our biggest health problems, he notes, are in the areas of eating habits and lifestyle. And we have to change them.

The Nation brings you some of the results of the study. If you want to see the full report, copies have been sent to all clinics and Band Councils and it is available in French and English.

If you want a workshop or discussion group to be organized in your community, call Elizabeth Robinson in Montreal at 514-989-1013.



96% of Crees have Cree as their mother tongue

91 % use only Cree at home

2/3 know either English or French (generally English)

15% know English and French


85% of us believe that prayer and religion are important to our well-being

Coastal communities: 80% are Anglican Inland communities: 50% Anglican, 50% Pentecostal

The ones who go to church the most: women, Pentecostals and older people

OUR WORK (for those 15 years and older)

Hunters and trappers: 22%

Managers and professionals: 9%

Office employees: 21%

Blue collar (construction etc.): 15%

Work at home: 13%

Retired/welfare: 10%

Unemployment insurance: 3%

Other: 8%


32% of Crees of all ages make one or more trips to the bush totalling at least 120 days in the bush each year


Almost 50% of Cree households have six or more people living there. In Quebec the average household has only three people.


Bad habits like smoking, drinking, taking drugs, eating badly, and living like a coach potato are the major contributors to getting serious disease. They will most likely shorten your life and lower the quality of your existence on Earth.


Without a doubt smoking causes the most deaths. 50,000 people in Canada die each year because of smoking (heart disease, circulatory problems, lung cancer).

37% of Cree deaths are attributed to lung cancer and circulatory problems

41% of all Crees smoke regularly. Only 34% of Quebeccers smoke regularly. (But Crees smoke fewer cigarettes per day than people in Quebec.)

37% of Crees are ex-smokers

9% have never smoked

61% of 15-24 year-olds smoke regularly (twice as high as young people in Quebec)


Alcohol abuse is associated with many serious health problems (cirrhosis of the liver, upper digestive tract cancer and death or injury in vehicle accidents). It is also associated with social problems, especially violence.

27% of Crees are habitual drinkers (i.e. they consume alcohol once a month or more)

22% are occasional drinkers (comsuming alcohol less than once a month)

28% are ex-drinkers

25% never touched the stuff

60% of the Quebec population are habitual drinkers


Most Crees who drink said they took more than five drinks at a session. (This is often called binge drinking and is more common among Crees drinkers than Quebecers. A binge drinker doesn’t drink every day or even every week, but when they drink, they drink to get very drunk.)

Inland: 83% of drinkers said they were heavy drinkers

Coastal: 55% of drinkers said they were heavy drinkers

17% of men and 7% of women have been injured in fights while drinking


Marijuana and hashish: 46% of men

(20-24) had used them during the last 12 months

32% of women had tried them

Cocaine or crack: 12% of men (20-24) had tried it

4% of women had tried it 484 people have tried cocaine or crack

Solvents: 10% said they sniffed glue, gasoline or solvents in their lifetime Solvents were used more by 15-19 year olds

628 people have tried solvents Drugs in general: Very few women over 25 take drugs. However, one out of every five men aged 25-44 report using drugs


Regular physical activity makes you feel great. It is good for your body, mind and spirit. It helps protect you against heart disease, obesity and makes you strong. In the bush, less than 3% of us are inactive.

We are busy doing physical work everyday.

But in town, it is very different. 50% of us sit around and are sedentary mostly every day in town. Inactive or sedentary means you usually sit during the day and don’t walk around very much.

70% of the population is not physically active during their leisure time.

42% of females and 24% of males do very little physical activity at all (work, daily activities, leisure)


It is now a recognized fact all over the world that poor food or too much food are associated with serious health problems: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, intestinal disease and cancer. These diseases, especially diabetes, were unknown to us before white food.

Before contact with Europeans, we ate mostly meat, fish and fat. We also ate wild fruit and plants such as Labrador tea and lichen, which are major sources of vitamins and minerals. We tend to value highly the fatty parts of our meat (caribou marrow, beaver tail) because in the past we needed those calories to survive.

If you only ate the lean parts, you would have to consume enormous quanties of meat to get the calories you need. It’s not

the same today. When flour, sugar and lard were introduced, they helped stave off famine, but they added even more calories to our diet. And now, when many of us live an inactive lifestyle in town, our eating habits, especially eating too much fat, are making us unwell.


Most Crees use fat for cooking. 46% of cooks usually fry meat and fish. Only 33% usually boil them.

73% eat fat with their meat or fish

Why many of us don’t eat vegetables:

Family does not like them: 39%

The respondent didn’t like the taste: 28%

Vegetables were not available in the community: 22%

The respondent felt they cost too much: 14%

To us, poor food is white food. Yet for convenience, because we live in town and for lack of time, we eat a lot of unhealthy store bought food.


Many studies show that if you weigh too much you have an increased chance of dying because of hypertension, diabetes and cardio vascular disease. It is also associated with increased blood pressure and an increase in total cholesterol. Obesity is a serious problem in aboriginal communities.

57% of Cree women (18-74) are obese, compared to 28% of Cree men

Only 13% of Quebecers are obese

1/3 of all Crees said they would like to lose weight


This refers to precautions taken by women to prevent health problems, mainly breast cancer and cervical cancer.


All women 18 and over should have regular pap tests. These tests look at your uterus (cervix) and can detect cancer at an early stage and save your life.

69% of Cree women had a pap test 81% of Quebec woman have had one


They can save your life by detecting breast cancer early on

Only 35% of Cree woman have had a breast examination compared to 81% of Quebec women


Many people now believe that our social life (friends and family, people we can count on) is important for our good health. Stressful events (death of a loved one, losing our job, moving) have negative effects on our health. Stressful feelings (fights with the family, rejection by the community, bottled up anger, tension at work) also affect your well-being and good health.

We are dose communities with large families. Our families can be the best place for us to get support. But at the same time, in our communites, where social pressure is a very powerful force, our families can also be the source of lots of stress.


More men than women said they had a lot of friends.

Men said they had more people they could count on than women.

Coastal (people 45 and older): 45% said they could count on five people or more in times of need

Inland (people 45 and older): Only 20% said they could count on five people or more.

But in general, 1/2 of Crees said they were very satisfied with their relationships with other members of the community. Only 1/3 of Quebeccers could say the same.


Social problems cause stress to the individual, family and community and therefore affect our health and well being. People were given a list of social problems and were asked to rate which were serious problems in their community.

82% alcohol abuse

81% young people getting in trouble with the law (theft, vandalism)

77% illegal drugs

77% loss of respect for the Elders among young people 70% public fights and disturbances 68% children neglected by their parents 64% spousal abuse. Physical and verbal violence between husband and wife

For every problem, more residents of inland villages said it was serious than did residents of coastal villages.



25% think they are in very good health 52% think they are in good health 21% think they are in fair health 2% think they are in bad health

Fewer Crees from inland villages think they are in very good health than coastal (17% versus 31%).

Southern Quebecers tended to rate their health as “good” when they were young, and the rating got worse as they got older. But this is not the case with the Crees. Elders tended to rate their health almost as well as younger people.


The evaluation of mental health is based on 1) if you feel very distressed a lot of the time (not related to a specific experience), and 2) if you have suicidal thoughts or have attempted suicide.

Elders said they had very little distress (2%) and those 45-65 (4%). However, young people, particularly young women (15-24), experience the highest amount of psychological distress (30%).

In general, it is twice as high for single people than those who were married.

Here are the percentages of people who were rated as feeling high levels of general distress:


Separated/divorced: 26%

Widowed: 3%

Single: 26%

EDUCATION Elementary: 8%

Secondary: 25%

Post-secondary: 23%


Professional/manager/office worker: 25%

Blue collar/self-employed: 18%

Trapper: 8%

Housekeeper: 15%

Not working: 22%


Your chances of having a heart attack or stroke are higher if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Cigarettes, lack of exercise, obesity and diabetes also increase your chances.

13% of Crees have high blood pressure(about 646 people) 50% don’t know they have it

73% of men versus 21 % of women are unaware they have it


Diabetes can be detected by testing your blood sugar level early in the morning before eating. People with a high level likely have diabetes. Diabetes can lead to losing your eyesight, having an amputation or having to be on a dialysis machine because your kidneys have failed. This can happen after 20 years with diabetes. Most Crees have not had diabetes that long.

10% of Crees (18-74) said they had diabetes (compared to 5% of Quebec adults)

More women than men suffer from it (8% in women 2% in men). It can be treated with a better diet, losing weight, pills or insulin.

Professionals and office worker and the unemployed had the highest levels of distress while trappers are living the calmest lives.