National Aboriginal Health Organization

National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO)

What Happened

Since its inception in 2000, the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) received its core funding of nearly $5 million per year from Health Canada; however, this funding was completely cut by the Conservative government in its 2012 budget. As a result, the organization closed its doors on June 30, 2012.  

Given the precarious health conditions of Canada’s Aboriginal populations, NAHO took on an educational role and established the Journal of Aboriginal Health, the first of its kind. The organization also carried out groundbreaking studies on social issues among Native populations in the Arctic. Its website contains reports, databases, and journals regarding indigenous health knowledge. According to NAHO's CEO, Simon Brascoupé, the organization's website had 640,000 downloads of health information in the past year alone. Moreover, NAHO also had a strong social outreach component and had distributed 250,000 booklets on health issues to First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities.

NAHO’s material is widely used by health workers, community leaders, as well as researchers. Part of its approach was to focus on indigenous health knowledge, engaging with target populations by audio and video recordings from indigenous elders, and emphasising the traditional ways in which Native knowledge is passed down from one generation to another.

Cutting a Native knowledge organization

In April 2012, NAHO received a phone call from the federal government, informing them that their funding would be terminated. The 2012 Federal Budget contains no provision for NAHO funding.  

The reason stated by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq for the cuts was that NAHO faced “governance challenges.” Similar concerns had been raised in November 2011 when a joint letter was written by the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Metis National Council, in which they called for NAHO to be replaced by a “new governance model.” What the three Native groups sought was to create three different organizations that would be responsible to them respectively and directly. It was claimed that this would would increase the groups’ control of the organizations. Furthermore, it is also claimed by these three groups that a new organizational model would lead to “cost efficiencies and saving.”     

As a result of these cuts to NAHO’s funding in the 2012 federal Budget, the organization had to close its doors on June 30 2012, with 31 employees losing their jobs.

The information on the website will remain available until December 2017.

Criticizing the cuts

Thomas Dignan, MD, chair of the The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada’s Aboriginal health advisory committee, has maintained that “organizational struggles aside, NAHO played an important role in advancing aboriginal health research.”

Dr. Dignan also said, “the state of Aboriginal health is a national embarrassment.” His remarks put into context the unfortunate timing of the funding cuts at a time when there are pressing needs among Native communities to improve health standards.      

According to critics, NAHO’s statistics and insights into the marginalization of Aboriginal peoples in Canada represent an uncomfortable source of information for the government.

Other cuts to native knowledge organizations include the First Nations Statistical Institute, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, and the Sisters in Spirit documentation project.

Relevant Dates:

  • 2000: The organization is founded in March under the name of Organization for the Advancement of Aboriginal Peoples Health (OAAPH). In December of the same year, its board of directors changed its name to National Aboriginal Health Organization. NAHO was funded by the Federal government through Health Canada.  
  • 2004: NAHO launches its innovative and peer-reviewed Journal on Aboriginal Health in Canada, which contains in-depth analysis, editorials, and original research from leading health scholars, academics and Aboriginal community members.
  • April 4, 2012: The federal government informs NAHO that their funding is being discontinued.
  • June 30, 2012: The organization closes its doors. However, its website and its online resources will remain accessible until December 2017.   

Role or Position

The National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) was established in 2000 as a non-profit knowledge-based organization. Its founding purpose was the improvement of the physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals, families and communities through academic research and educational awareness. 

Implications and Consequences

  • Equality: The repercussions of the funding cut are significant for Canada's Native populations, which remain the country's most disadvantaged for well-known historical reasons. Given the dire situation, groups like NAHO are vital and it is necessary that they be provided with the sustained support and funding needed for vital research and documentation on Aboriginal health. Such research also informs the work of institutions such as the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to ameliorate health and living conditions of Canada's indigenous populations.
  • Equality: The NAHO budget cuts should be seen in a continuum with budget cuts to similar organizations like the Aboriginal Statistical Institute, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, and the Sisters in Spirit documentation project. Such cuts make it even harder to lift Canada’s Native populations out of their predicament.  
  • Free Speech: One of the factors that made NAHO such an important organization was its ability to work with mainstream Canadian institutions while maintaining roots firmly based in Native culture and knowledge. The loss of NAHO's voice in the debate over Canadian public policy will only serve to further marginalize Canada's Native populations and take away its agency.
  • Democracy: The present paradigm of Canadian politics - one where precedence is given to the market instead of the basic needs of the people - especially hurts the needs of those who are the weakest.
  • Transparency: The cuts to NAHO are part of the many budgetary reductions contained in the 2012 federal budget. There have been complaints about the secrecy in which the government is undertaking such cuts and the lack of information about their impact. The case for more transparency has been made by the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, a non-partisan public servant who has faced considerable hurdles in obtaining information on the impact of cuts and of omnibus bills.


Date published: 10 October 2012

Date updated: 22 October 2012

Photo from the Centre for Aboriginal Health Research, University of Victoria.