First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Women's Health: A Rights-Based Approach


  • Yvonne Boyer Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Health and Wellness; Professor, Native Studies, Faculty of Arts, Brandon University.



The health status of Aboriginal women in Canada is disparagingly low as compared to the non-Aboriginal population. The implementation of male centred legislation, policies, and institutions that are the hallmark of Canada’s colonial history have had a long-lasting impact on the health of Aboriginal women. Although Aboriginal women have unique sets of constitutionally protected rights, the government has failed to protect these rights.

The purpose of this article is to present a constitutional and human rights-based approach to address constitutionally protected rights within the context of a distinctive Indigenous appreciation of social rights and of women’s substantive equality. This article is separated into three sections. First, using data from federal government and the Native Women’s Association of Canada statistics, the health status of Aboriginal women is examined. Many international instruments and agreements recognize a rights-based approach to health. Canada, as a signatory to a number of these agreements, has acknowledged its international obligations towards the health of Aboriginal people. Two of these agreements, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, provide the human rights standards that bind Canada with regard to all Canadians and are examined in the second section. The last section suggests that a constitutional equality rights framework may offer a promising basis for future right to health assertions by Aboriginal women. Through an analysis of both collective and individual rights of Aboriginal women to health, section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it becomes apparent that Canada is in breach of its constitutional obligations.