New Indigenous Services ministry aiming to improve health, quality of life

Federal briefing documents on the new Indigenous Services Department say Indigenous people in Canada don’t live as long, are more likely to end up in the child welfare system and are less likely to graduate high school.

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott is laying out today the structure and goals of the new department, which is supposed to improve the quality of life and help move away from the top-down approach where Ottawa dictates all that happens in the file.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in August he was splitting the Indigenous Affairs department in two with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs handling land claims and self-governance and Philpott’s new department taking over government programs on health, child welfare, education and infrastructure.

Philpott’s briefing documents show the difficult job ahead for her new department, with life expectancy for Indigenous people 15 years shorter than other Canadians, infant mortality rates two to three times higher and incidence of diseases such as diabetes four times the rate in non-Indigenous populations.

High school graduation rates on reserve are half of what they are elsewhere, and reserves also have a $30 billion infrastructure deficit for everything from dilapidated, overcrowded housing to water treatment and delivery, roads and broadband services.

Later this week, Philpott is hosting an emergency meeting on child welfare on reserves, which she says is the most pressing issue for her new department.

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