The Issue

A child’s expression of their pain experience is complex, and related to social and cultural factors. Our research shows that the way Indigenous children’s pain is assessed and treated by non-Aboriginal health care providers can be ineffective, and have a range of  negative effects.

Under-treated pain can lead to learning disabilities, heightened medical fears, anxiety, chronic pain, impaired development, poor school outcomes and inadequate health care that can continue later in life. Because of this long and short-term impact, it is critical that we work towards understanding these complex issues.

Challenges of Assessment and Treatment

The ACHH Initiative has identified several factors that can impact how Indigenous children’s pain is assessed and treated

  • Children and youth are often stoic and hide their pain. In fact, the Mi’kmaq language does not have a word for pain. This can lead to misunderstandings by non-Aboriginal health professionals.
  • Children and youth often do not cry, complain or verbally express their pain. Cultural traditions and a legacy of oppression and abuse has led to Aboriginal children developing this reaction.
  • Children and youth are not heard. When participants sought out treatment for health issues, they felt they were ‘not being listened to.’
  • Common pain assessments are not culturally appropriate. Many health providers use a numerical scale or facial expression to assess patient pain. Historically, Aboriginal people express their experiences through story and description.
  • Perceived discrimination. Participants reported that health professionals stereotyped community members as having alcohol and drug problems. This led to feelings of distrust and frustration, and delays in seeking further treatment.

Surviving the Survivor [7.45 mins]

In this award-winning piece for The National, former CBC reporter Wab Kinew shares his personal story of how residential schools affected three generations of his family.

 Find out more

Experience Indigenous children telling their stories in their own words.