Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 96, Supplement 1, pp S17–S21 | Cite as

From Past to Present: Understanding First Nations Health Patterns in a Historical Context

  • Paul HackettEmail author


By many measures of health, Canada’s First Nations compare very poorly to the non-Native population as a whole. The need to explain, and to correct, this disparity has led public health researchers to consider a wide variety of community characteristics. One area that is as yet under-utilized, but may yield important insights into the complex question of First Nations health, is history. This paper presents an overview of the potential uses of historical methods in the study of the health of First Nations communities in Manitoba. It also introduces the major historical data sources available to public health researchers involved in such research. There are three main benefits to the inclusion of history in public health research. First, we may learn about the impact of health changes on Aboriginal groups in the past. Second, we may better understand the origins of present-day health concerns, many of which emerged out of the events of the recent or not so recent past. Finally, we may gain important insights into the nature of the disease process, and the diseases themselves, by employing the past as a laboratory. The addition of an historical approach can enhance health research directed towards First Nations communities in Manitoba.

MeSH terms

history health First Nations Manitoba community health 


Comme le confirment de nombreuses mesures, l’état de santé des Premières nations du Canada est très inférieur à celui de la population non autochtone dans son ensemble. Voulant expliquer et corriger cette disparité, des chercheurs du domaine de la santé publique ont étudié un vaste éventail de caractéristiques communautaires. L’histoire est un aspect encore sous-étudié, mais qui pourrait éclairer la question complexe de la santé des Premières nations. Nous présentons ici un aperçu des utilisations éventuelles de méthodes historiques pour étudier la santé des collectivités des Premières nations du Manitoba. Nous indiquons aussi les principales sources de données historiques dont disposent les chercheurs en santé publique qui effectuent ce genre de recherches. Il y a trois grands avantages à inclure l’histoire dans la recherche en santé publique. Premièrement, l’histoire peut nous apprendre quel a été l’impact des changements liés à la santé sur les groupes autochtones dans le passé. Deuxièmement, elle permet de mieux comprendre l’origine des préoccupations actuelles relatives à la santé, dont beaucoup découlent d’événements de notre passé récent ou plus ancien. Troisièmement, le laboratoire du passé peut jeter un éclairage très nécessaire sur la nature des maladies et de leur déroulement. L’ajout d’une démarche historique peut donc améliorer la recherche sur la santé des collectivités des Premières nations du Manitoba.


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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

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