Indigenous communities

In 2021, there were about 1.8 million Indigenous people in Canada. They make up about 5% of the population. This number is expected to grow to between 2.5 million and 3.2 million in the next 20 years. First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations have been deeply affected by historical and ongoing colonial practices, which led to and continue to have an impact on health disparities and inequalities.

Unfortunately, there's not enough information about cancer in Indigenous communities. Some Indigenous groups have higher mortality rates of certain cancers compared to the general population in Canada. This is often because they don't receive the continuous care, culturally appropriate treatments, education and support services they need.

No one should face a cancer diagnosis alone or lack access to the information and care they need. But for First Nations people, Inuit and Métis and their loved ones, there can be unique challenges and barriers that make a cancer experience more difficult than it needs to be. The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) acknowledges its responsibility to provide cancer information, support and practical services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, as well as advocate for healthy public policy and fund research focused on advancing health equity.

Who are Indigenous peoples in Canada?

Indigenous peoples are descendants of the first inhabitants of what is now Canada. It is a collective noun for First Nations people, Inuit and Métis.

First Nations people are descendants of the original inhabitants of Canada who lived here for many thousands of years before explorers arrived from Europe. First Nations people identify themselves by the nation to which they belong.

Inuit are the original inhabitants of the northern regions of Canada. The word Inuit means “the people” in the most commonly used Inuit language of Inuktut.

Métis includes a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Indigenous peoples, is of historic Métis Nation ancestry and is accepted by the Métis Nation.

Urban Indigenous people refers primarily to First Nations people, Inuit and Métis currently residing in urban areas.

We recognize that CCS has a role to play in truth and reconciliation. We are at an early stage of our journey to understanding how to best collaborate with Indigenous peoples. The work of listening and learning is a foundational step. We encourage everyone in Canada to also read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report and reflect on its 94 calls to action. 7 calls to action are specific to health and many others address important determinants of health.

CCS has released Advancing Health Equity Through Cancer Information and Support Services: Report on communities that are underserved. The report describes the gaps, barriers and challenges faced by 10 identified underserved communities, including Indigenous communities. It offers insight on how to better engage with and improve supports for these communities who, like all people in Canada, deserve access to cancer care.

Our programs and services

All CCS staff are offered diversity, inclusion, belonging and equity training. This training helps us ensure that our physical spaces like lodges, camps and vehicles, as well as our services over the phone, chat and email, are safe, welcoming and inclusive. In 2023, CCS program staff will begin receiving formal training to improve how we work with and provide our services to Indigenous people and communities through San'yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Online Training.

Our cancer information, support and practical programs are for everyone in Canada, but here are ways that they support First Nations people, Inuit, Métis and urban Indigenous people in particular.

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Cancer information

Understanding cancer can help ease the anxiety of a diagnosis. Find information on more than 100 cancer types, covering the entire cancer experience. Explore our wide range of resources in formats like publications, videos and webinars. The My Journey series includes 2 booklets for Inuit living with cancer.
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Community Services Locator

Our Community Services Locator helps people with cancer and their loved ones find services and programs like support groups, wigs and prosthesis, financial help, places to stay and more. Use the “Services for” filter to find resources and support services for First Nations people, Inuit and Métis.

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Cancer Information Helpline

The Cancer Information Helpline provides information and support to people with cancer and their families and friends. Our information specialists answer questions and connect people with resources, including those for Indigenous communities. An interpreter service is available in over 20 Indigenous languages.

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Wheels of Hope

If you need to travel across town or across the province to receive cancer treatment, the Wheels of Hope team can help. Our national team of staff and volunteers is able to provide service in over 20 Indigenous languages and recognize the land on which we all live, play and drive is Indigenous land.

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Lodge staff attend diversity, inclusion, belonging and equity training workshops which help us understand how to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere. With respect and gratitude, we acknowledge that our 7 lodges are located on the traditional territories of many nations.
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Online cancer support community is a safe online community that provides connection, information and peer support to people with cancer and their families and friends. People from Indigenous communities can search member profiles to find other people from Indigenous communities for private messaging and connection.

The trip that saved my life 

While on a graduation trip with her classmates, Debra found out she had a brain tumour. Hear about her experience having treatment away from her home in the far north and how she feels about travelling back and forth for follow-up tests. Listening to her niece sing is one thing that brightens her day.

Debra: I grew up in a small town called Pangnirtung, Nunavut with a population less than 2,000 people. I'm the second-oldest of my 4 sisters, and my whole family lives in the town. We are very close with each other, so it was really difficult for us when we lost my younger sister, Samantha, 5 years ago to a brain tumour and my older sister, Julia, to a colon cancer 3 months before my high school graduation.

Samantha was in treatments for a long time in Ottawa, but Julia found out that she had cancer late and passed away 2 months after her diagnosis. Three months after Julia passed away on May 31, I was on my way to Ottawa with my 8 classmates for our graduation celebration trip. Our plan was to go to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.

During our second flight to Ottawa, I started vomiting. It was strange for me, as I felt normal at that time. I continued to vomit everything I ate for the first 4 days of the trip until the teacher made the decision to take me to the hospital in Quebec City. My aunt from Ottawa travelled to meet me while my classmates continued on with the rest of their trip.

I remember sitting in an emergency room with people speaking French all around me, and both my aunt and I had no idea what they were saying. I was scared. My aunt told him we didn't understand, and he came back with a translator who told us that I had a brain tumour the size of a lemon and 3 polyps. Me and my aunt just looked at each other in shock.

Thankfully the surgeons were able to remove it all. And a few weeks later, I was transferred to a hospital in Ottawa where I did radiation for 6 weeks. I didn't get back home until 4 and 1/2 months after I left.

Today, 3 years later, I have a full-time job as an office clerk and still have to travel back down to Ottawa for tests every 3 months. I bring one family member on each trip, because I can have a seizure at any time and my doctor doesn't want me to travel alone. Sometimes I look forward to the trip and sometimes I don't, but I am glad that I am still here to help my mom take care of my older sister's daughter, Faith. Her singing brightens my day.

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Inuusinni Aqqusaaqtara - My Journey

These booklets were created in collaboration with Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada to increase Inuit knowledge about cancer and provide resources to people with cancer and their families, caregivers and health providers. These booklets are also available in 3 regional dialects of Inuktut.
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Talk Tobacco
Experienced and culturally competent quit coaches provide personalized and confidential support and information by phone, text and online to First Nations people, Inuit, Métis and urban Indigenous people who want to quit smoking commercial tobacco or vaping.
To learn more about other communities that are underserved, explore our health equity work.