It won’t come as a surprise, but the just-released Aboriginal Peoples Survey confirms it: the health of Natives in Canada is poor. Stricken with arthritis and diabetes at rates double the national average, aboriginal adults in Canada were twice as likely as those in the rest of the country to rank their health as below average in this new study.

Almost half of the off-reserve aboriginal Canadians surveyed in the Statistics Canada study reported a chronic health problem. Among adults, for example, 19 per cent reported arthritis or rheumatism, compared with 11 per cent for the total population.

But for aboriginal youth, the news is better: According to the study, 69 per cent of those under 25 rated their health as very good or excellent—on par with their peers in the rest of the population. But the survey suggested that health tends to decline more quickly for adult natives as they age when compared to Canadians overall.

And the findings were most grim for older aboriginal women, who are also often the poorest: 41 per cent of those between 55 and 64 rated their health as poor or fair, compared with 19 per cent of other Canadian women in the same age group.

About 700,000 natives live off-reserve, mostly in urban areas, according to the census, accounting for 70 per cent of Canada’s total aboriginal population. The study was based on interviews with 117,000 Native Indians, Métis and Inuit, and compared results and similar findings in 1996. While it reported some progress on reducing the school dropout rate and in improving crowded living conditions, the advances made did not go far in closing the gap between the aboriginal population and the Canadian norm.

One-quarter of aboriginal children under the age of 15, and particularly those in the North, live in crowded conditions, which is defined as more than one person per room. That’s twice the rate of other Canadian children, the study said. Aboriginal people were also more likely to report that their homes needed major repairs, and, largely in Northern locations, that their water supply had been contaminated in the past year.

In the past five years, the number of natives between the ages of 20 and 24 without a high school diploma dropped to 48 per cent from 52 — but it was still almost double the figure at the national level. At the same time, the number of aboriginal people — Métis, Inuit and Indians living off-reserve — who have completed a postsecondary level of studies had increased to 39 per cent, but was still lower than the general population.

The study reported a steady decline in the use of aboriginal languages. While most off-reserve natives said their language was important to them, the ability to converse in their traditional tongue dropped to 16 per cent in 2001 from 20 per cent. The Inuit, many of whom are taught by aboriginal teachers, were by far the most likely to be fluent in their native language, with 82 per cent able to converse in Inuktitut.