Fact Sheet - First Nations and Inuit Health Branch


In recognition of the unique status and needs of First Nations and Inuit in Canada, the federal government established the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) within the department of Health Canada. This branch works closely with First Nations and Inuit to improve health outcomes; to ensure the availability of, or access to, quality health services; and to support greater control of the health system by First Nations and Inuit.

Health Canada's role in First Nations and Inuit health began in 1945, when Indian health services were transferred from Indian Affairs to Health Canada. By 1962, Health Canada was providing direct health services to First Nations people on reserve and to Inuit communities in the north. By the mid 1980s, work began to have First Nations and Inuit communities control more health services. Capacity for governance has been increasing over the past decade. Seventy-nine percent of First Nations and Inuit communities are involved in the transfer process.

Health Status

In recent years, First Nations and Inuit health has improved in many areas, such as life expectancy and infant mortality. However, despite improvements, gaps remain in the overall health status of First Nations and Inuit compared to other Canadians. For example, First Nations people and Inuit have higher rates of injury, suicide and many chronic and communicable diseases.

First Nations and Inuit Programs and Services

FNIHB works closely with First Nations and Inuit organizations and communities to carry out many activities aimed at helping people keep healthy, and preventing chronic and infectious diseases.

Population Statistics

Projected Registered:

  • Indian Population (2007): 805,750
  • Inuit (2007): 48,700

Projected average annual population growth rate, 2001 to 2017:

  • First Nations: 2.0%
  • Inuit: 2.3%
  • Canada: 0.7%

Number of communities:

  • First Nations: 606
  • Inuit: 53

Population under 25 years:

  • First Nations: 50%
  • Inuit: 56%

Communities under 1,000 population:

  • First Nations 90%
  • Inuit 60%

FNIHB provides for, or supports, the delivery of community-based health programs on-reserve and in Inuit communities, as well as the provision of drug, dental and ancillary health services to First Nations and Inuit regardless of residence. The Branch also provides primary care services on-reserve in remote and isolated areas where provincial services are not readily available.

Ongoing programs for Aboriginal health include:

Non-Insured Health Benefits

The Non-Insured Health Benefits program provides a range of medically necessary goods and services to status Indians and eligible Inuit that supplement benefits provided by private or provincial/territorial programs including: dental and vision care, prescription drugs, medical supplies and equipment, transportation to medical services, short-term/crisis mental health counselling and payment of health insurance premiums in British Columbia and Alberta.

Community Programs

Community-based programming focuses on improving health by promoting health and preventing disease. Program investments, in collaboration with First Nations and Inuit, support:

  • healthy child development;
  • community mental wellness;
  • youth suicide prevention;
  • addictions prevention and treatment;
  • healthy nutrition and activity promotion;
  • disease/injury risk factor prevention; and
  • community capacity building initiatives.

Primary Health Care

FNIHB provides primary health care in about 200 remote communities. It operates 223 health centres in semi-isolated communities and nursing stations in 74 remote and semi-remote sites, and the Home and Community Care program operates in over 600 communities. The Branch employs 22 physicians and 675 nurses. It is also responsible for direct program delivery in two hospitals.

Public Health

FNIHB maintains programs that are designed to control communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis. There are also programs to monitor the safety of drinking water on reserve and initiatives to address other environmental health and contaminant issues, such as waste water management and the problem of mould in housing in First Nations communities.

FNIHB Personnel and Facilities (as of April 2007)

  • 675 Nurses
  • 22 Physicians
  • 41 Alcohol and drug treatment centres
  • 9 Solvent abuse centres
  • 223 Health centres
  • 74 Nursing stations
  • Home and community care in 600 communities
  • Primary health care in about 200 remote comunities

FNIHB also undertakes health surveillance, information, and analysis, including data development, data analysis, research evidence, and evaluation advice to support policy development, program priority-setting and decision-making on health-related investment.


The First Nations and Inuit health system faces many of the same challenges as other Canadian health systems - for example, increasing costs and health human resource shortages. Additional challenges include quickly growing populations with a higher rate of disease burden and populations living largely in remote and rural areas of the country.

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