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Soc Sci Med. 1999 Jun;48(12):1821-32.

The historical roots of high rates of infant death in Aboriginal communities in Canada in the early twentieth century: the case of Fisher River, Manitoba.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont., Canada.


Infant mortality is investigated for a period of thirty years at the beginning of the 20th century in the Aboriginal Nations community of Fisher River, Manitoba. Infant mortality rates were generated from parish records of infant burials from the Methodist mission at Fisher River and later archived at the United Church Archives in Winnipeg, Man. The average infant mortality rate (IMR) for the total period (1910-1939) was 249 per 1000 live births, an exceedingly high rate compared to modern IMRs and even higher than those in developing countries today. Acute respiratory infections were found to be the cause of death in the majority of cases. These infectious diseases and high rates of postneonatal infant mortality point to conditions of poverty associated with malnutrition as the major precipitating factor in infant death. Fisher River, like other early 20th century First Nations communities in Canada, experienced socio-economic deprivation because of the decline of the fur trade and the underdevelopment of a reserve economy competing for resources with the Canadian government and Euro-Canadian settlers. These conditions of economic and political marginalization are concluded to be the ultimate causes of high rates of infant mortality and are incorporated in a disease ecology model.

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