Health of the prairie Metis 1900-1960: An examination of the social determinants of health and infectious disease

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Maud, Velvet
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Between 1900 and 1960, the health of the prairie Metis was worse in comparison to their non-Metis counterparts. This is obvious when one examines the rates of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis [TB]. For example, in the early 1900s, Henry Gabeler, a trader who worked between Shoal Lake and Lake Manitoba, MB, estimated “Nine out of ten half-breeds die[d] with [TB].” The disease continued to be an ongoing problem and twenty years later, Dr. Stewart, Superintendent of the Manitoba Sanatorium, reported all “races [were] hit hard [by the disease]” but it was especially problematic among those “of mixed Indian blood.” TB remained an ongoing issue, and in 1932, the death rate from TB was 8x higher among the Metis. The situation in Manitoba was not unique and it was estimated the prevalence of the disease among them in Alberta was 90%. Instead of examining why they were experiencing elevated rates of disease and poor health, some historical physicians and scholars argued they were an inferior people and were responsible for their own health disparities. These men failed to acknowledge how colonialism and actions of the government and society contributed to the increased disease burden. Racism and displacement were the primary reasons why they were socially-politically-economically marginalized and experienced a cycle of poverty and poor health. To date, no scholar has attempted to focus specifically on their health and infectious disease between 1900 and 1960. During this time, they had not only been displaced from their traditional lands, they were an invisible people that became an “economically and socially disadvantaged group,” which influenced their health. Instead of acknowledging their role, governments (federal, provincial and territorial) and society blamed them for their own health disparities, arguing they were an inferior people. This study examines how colonialism and the actions of the various levels of government resulted with cycle of poverty and poor health developing among the Metis; which in turn elevated rates of infectious disease and made it impossible for them to maintain a level of health comparable to the general population.
Metis, Infectious Disease, Health, Social Conditions, Social Determinants of Health, Racism