We used population-based data from the Province of Manitoba's universal health insurance plan to compare the cholecystectomy experience of Native Americans and non-Natives from 1972 to 1984. The age-adjusted cholecystectomy rates for Native females were higher than for non-Native females with the peak rate occurring at age 30-39 for Native Americans and at age 60-69 for non-Natives. The rates for males were three times lower than for females and did not differ between Natives and non-Natives. Native Americans were more likely readmitted to hospital for surgical complications than non-Natives and this held true after controlling for age, sex, rural versus urban residence, teaching versus non-teaching hospital, multiple discharge diagnoses or complex versus simple cholecystectomy (relative odds 1.46, 95 per cent confidence interval 1.17, 1.18). The explanation for the relatively high rates of cholecystectomy among Native American females may be related to high rates of known risk factors for gallstone disease (such as obesity and high parity). However, the higher rates of surgical complications require further study.