Tourand, J., Smith, A., Poon, C., Saewyc,E. & McCreary Centre Society. (2016). Raven’s Children IV: Aboriginal youth health in BC.McCreary Centre Society

There have been many improvements in Aboriginal youth health over the past decade. For example, there was a decrease in the percentage reporting serious injuries and an increase in those eating fruit and vegetables.

Youth were less likely to have tried tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or other substances than in previous years; and the percentages who had used injecting as a method of drug use halved. There was also a decrease in youth reporting drinking and driving.

Three quarters of Aboriginal youth intended to continue to post-secondary education after high school (including 83% of students in Grade 12). The percentage of youth who did not expect to finish high school decreased from 3% in 2008 to 1% in 2013.

Despite these improvements, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth has not closed in some key areas. For example, among females the disparity in reporting extreme stress and considering suicide widened, as did the gap in positive physical health ratings between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal males.

Discrimination continues to impact the health of Aboriginal youth. Youth who experienced discrimination were less likely to report good or excellent mental health (61% vs. 84%) or physical health (73% vs. 88%), and they were more likely to have used substances compared to youth without this experience. Also, 24% of students who had experienced racial discrimination in the past year did not access needed medical care during that time, compared to 10% who had not faced such discrimination.

After worsening between 2003 and 2008, a number of key health trends returned to 2003 levels, including the percentage of youth experiencing physical or sexual abuse or dating violence.

Youth living on-reserve generally experienced more challenges to their healthy development than those living  off-reserve. However, youth living on-reserve were more likely than those off-reserve to speak an Aboriginal language, engage in cultural activities, and find their family’s support helpful.

There were also differences in the health picture of rural and urban students, which participants in community consultations credited to lack of available services and supplies in rural parts of the province. For example, in comparison to urban-based youth, rural youth were more likely to be obese (based on their BMI), to have hitchhiked in the past month (11% vs. 4%), and to have missed out on needed medical care because the service they needed was not available in their community.

The importance of Aboriginal languages and cultural connectedness were talked about by youth, Elders, and other adults who participated in consultations about the report. This was supported by the survey results. For example, youth who spoke an Aboriginal language were more likely than those who did not to feel quite a bit or very much like a part of their community (40% vs. 35%). Only 6% of youth who had never lived on-reserve spoke an Aboriginal language (compared to 41% living on-reserve). However, if they did speak an Aboriginal language, they were less likely to report mental health challenges and were more likely to be engaging in positive health behaviours.

There were many health benefits associated with participating in cultural activities. For example, those who engaged in weekly cultural activities in the past year were more likely than those who did not take part to feel highly connected to school, feel like a part of their community, and volunteer weekly in their community. Similarly, eating traditional foods from their culture was linked with positive mental health for Aboriginal youth.

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