By many measures of health, Canada's First Nations compare very poorly to the non-Native population as a whole. The need to explain, and to correct, this disparity has led public health researchers to consider a wide variety of community characteristics. One area that is as yet under-utilized, but may yield important insights into the complex question of First Nations health, is history. This paper presents an overview of the potential uses of historical methods in the study of the health of First Nations communities in Manitoba. It also introduces the major historical data sources available to public health researchers involved in such research. There are three main benefits to the inclusion of history in public health research. First, we may learn about the impact of health changes on Aboriginal groups in the past. Second, we may better understand the origins of present-day health concerns, many of which emerged out of the events of the recent or not so recent past. Finally, we may gain important insights into the nature of the disease process, and the diseases themselves, by employing the past as a laboratory. The addition of an historical approach can enhance health research directed towards First Nations communities in Manitoba.
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