A Culturally-Relevant Perspective on This Issue


Education is the gradual acquisition of knowledge, skills, and values through formal instruction or other informal teachings, such as hands-on experience [1]. Educational attainment refers to the highest level of schooling a person has attained in elementary and secondary school, or post-secondary education completed (e.g., trades, college, university), as well as certificates or diplomas obtained [2]. Education is an important determinant of health because it fosters an understanding of health, access, and use of health services. Education also influences health as it may affect employment opportunities and income. 

The educational attainment of Aboriginal women is improving, but still lags significantly behind that for women in the general population. Among Aboriginal women, pregnancy is a significant barrier to completing high school: 25% of Aboriginal women cited pregnancy and childcare as a reason for quitting school [3]. However, among Aboriginal peoples, women are more likely than men to attain higher levels of education.

Aboriginal people’s education is influenced by the legacy of colonization and residential schooling and a long history of conflict between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures, which has led to distrust and resentment of a system primarily run by non-Aboriginal, middle-class people [3]. Data specific to Aboriginal women’s education and its relationship to health are lacking.

First Nations

Educational attainment among First Nations people in Canada is low. Data from the 2006 census show that 42% of First Nations People (aged 25-64 years) had completed postsecondary education.  For on-reserve First Nations residents, 60% of those aged 20-24 had not completed high school or an alternative diploma or certificate program [4]. 

An estimated 12% of off-reserve First Nations had a trades certificate, 17% a college degree, and 7% of First Nations people had a university degree. Off-reserve First Nations people were more likely to have university and college degrees. First Nations women both on- and off-reserve (aged 25-64) were more likely than men to have completed a postsecondary education (44% compared to 39%) [4].


Among the population identifying as Métis between the ages of 25 and 64 years, half had obtained postsecondary qualifications, 24% had completed high school or a high school equivalent, and 26% had not completed high school or the equivalent. The most common postsecondary qualification was a college diploma (21%), followed by trades certificates (16%) [5].


According to the 2006 census, 49% of the adult Inuit population had completed high school and 36% held a postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree. A greater proportion of Inuit high school graduates are female [6]. The most popular field of post secondary study among Inuit people was construction trades, with 22% attaining qualifications in that area. The number of Inuit with a university degree increased from 2% in 2001 to 4% in 2006 [5].