Inuit lifespan stagnates while Canada's rises

Wed Jan 23, 2008 4:12pm EST
 
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By Jonathan Spicer

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Inuit in Canada's far north have lifespans 12 to 15 years shorter than the average Canadian's, government data showed on Wednesday, putting the aboriginal people on a par with developing countries such as Guatemala and Mongolia.

At 64 to 67 years, Inuit life expectancy "appears to have stagnated" between 1991 and 2001, and falls well short of Canada's average of 79.5 years, which has steadily risen, Statistics Canada said.

"A lot of people see life in the Arctic as pristine, where Inuit live problem-free, but in reality people are trying to raise families and live a better life in difficult conditions," said Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit organization.

Inuit now live as long as the average Canadian did in the 1940s, Simon noted in an interview. "We didn't even have medicare (publicly funded health-care) then, so yes, this is pretty shocking."

Inuit have the lowest life expectancy among Canada's three aboriginal groups, which also include Indians and Metis. Together, the groups number 1.2 million, or about 3.8 percent of Canada's total population of around 32 million.

The Inuit live primarily in the huge northern Canadian territory of Nunavut, as well as in the Northwest Territories, northern Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Statistics Canada based its data on a 2001 census of regions where Inuit represented at least 80 percent of the population.

In 2006 there were about 50,500 Inuit in Canada. The data released on Wednesday shows the further north they lived, the shorter their life expectancy.

The numbers are similar to those of Guatemala and Mongolia, where life expectancy is 68 and 66 years, respectively, according to the World Health Organization.   Continued...

 
<p>An Inuit girl dressed in traditional clothing plays on rocks in Pangnirtung, Nunavut July 5, 2007. The Inuit in Canada's far north have lifespans 12 to 15 years shorter than the average Canadian's, government data showed on Wednesday, putting the aboriginal people on a par with developing countries such as Guatemala and Mongolia. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>