The Canadian Medical Association says First Nations have an “unacceptable” state of health and called on Ottawa to intervene immediately to improve the situation.

Native people live an average 10 years shorter than the Canadian average. The infant mortality rate is still 50 per cent higher than Canada’s as a whole. On average, 12 .4 native babies die for every 1,000 births. That compares to only 7.6 deaths per 1,000 in Canada as a whole.

Another problem is the lack of native doctors. Vince Tookenay, president of the Canadian Association of Native Doctors, said there only 51 native doctors in the entire country, whereas there is a need for 600. Better training is needed for non-native doctors who serve aboriginal peoples, added Tookenay.

Plus, native peoples must have a greater role in the health care system. “We should assume our rightful part of the responsibilities,” he was quoted as saying in a La Presse article.

The criticisms of the health care system came at the 127th annual assembly of the Canadian Medical Association in Montreal in mid-August. Federal Health Minister Diane Marteau, also present, said the needs of aboriginal peoples are a priority for the Liberal government. She announced that a pre-school aid program would soon be set up to help native kids.