While much has been made of the links between mouldy, overcrowded houses and the health of First Nations people, a new report released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday suggests that income level is even more important.
"The results showed First Nations living on reserve were nearly three times more likely to be hospitalized for respiratory tract infections and for those living off reserve the likelihood was about two times higher compared to non-Aboriginal persons," said Gisèle Carriere, one of the authors of the report, Housing conditions and respiratory hospitalizations among First Nations people in Canada.
"Housing factors were found to be related to these respiratory hospitalizations, but the results do suggest that household income may be more pertinent."
The report, which largely drew on data from the 2006 census and hospital discharge records, doesn't spell out exactly how income and respiratory illness are linked — though she said there are other studies that do explain the links.
"We don't have information about smoking behaviours. That's not collected by the census and it's not contained in hospital records that we linked the census to," Carriere said, explaining why the research doesn't make a more direct link between income and respiratory disease among First Nations people.
"You can imagine data sources that include information about income, Aboriginal identity, at hospitalization are scarce."
The link doesn't surprise Linda Larcombe from the University of Manitoba's department of internal medicine. She's done extensive research on the links between poverty and First Nations health.
"The fact that health inequities exist between First Nation and non-First Nation Canadians is a product of many factors, including colonization and racism, differential access to education, nutritious food, medical services, employment opportunities," she said in an email.
Ultimately, Larcombe said she's more interested in finding solutions, like a guaranteed minimum annual income for Canadians and custom-tailored housing for Indigenous communities.
Larcombe is part of a group looking at how housing can be tailored to meet the needs of a Dene community in northern Manitoba, including homes constructed from locally sourced material, using energy-efficient housing, solar and geothermal technology in a way that's mould-resistant.
"It's easy to get caught up in the details and the complexities of what's wrong with First Nation housing but having worked with the communities, I'm more interested in what we can do to improve conditions," she said.