From the Factivist, Winter 2012
By Manuel Francisco Escoto, Volunteer Writer
The 2006 Canadian census showed that on average, Aboriginals earn approximately 30% less ($18,962 to $27, 097) compared to the rest of Canadians (Wilson and McDonald, 2010, p. 8). In 2005, 3.8 per cent of the countrys population identified as Aboriginal, either as North American Indians (or First Nations peoples; 60% of the total), Métis (33%) or Inuit (4%). Of these, 21.7 per cent had incomes below Statistics Canadas Low-Income Cut-Off (after tax), compared to 11.1 per cent for the non-Aboriginal identity population (Statistics Canada, 2006a).
A disproportionate number of Aboriginals fall below the poverty line. In fact, the Aboriginal poverty gap is more pronounced in the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. For example, Aboriginals in Saskatchewan are about three and a half times more likely to be poor than non-Aboriginal residents (Noel, 8, 2009). The literature that examines the linkages between Aboriginal poverty and socio-economic injustice often stresses the socio-cultural circumstances Aboriginals have encountered in Canada (Salée, 2006, p. 23). Historically, Aboriginal groups endured colonization and suffered from the imposition of colonial institutions, leading to a disturbance in their lifestyle. Consequently, the product of the colonial process can be seen in Canadas contemporary political, social and economic systems. According to Loppie and Wien (2009):
"Through colonization, colonialism, systemic racism and discrimination, Aboriginal peoples have been denied access to the resources and conditions necessary to better their lives. This disadvantage is currently manifested in high rates of unemployment, scarce economic opportunities, poor housing, low literacy and educational attainment as well as meager community resources." Further studies have shown that poverty and stresses have been linked to violence, addictions, poor parenting, and lack of social support, Loppie and Wein (2009).
Moreover, segregation inhibits Aboriginals from pursing education and as a consequence, individuals in society who suffer from poverty also undergo feelings of anxiety, insecurity, low self esteem, and of hopelessness. It is important to remember that in Canadas history, Aboriginals were explicitly denied citizenship and endured forced assimilation. Following the 1876 Indian Act, they were treated as wards or children of the state, unable to be enfranchised until they had ceased to follow the Indian mode of life, (Department of the Interior Annual Report, 1876, cited in Papillon, 95, 2008). Until 1960, Aboriginals could not vote and faced major constraints preventing them from owning land, a business or even a house. They also experienced widespread discrimination and saw many of their cultural or traditional practices banned by authorities.There is deep and clear evidence of the unequal distribution of resources and opportunity in Canada. On one hand, there has been an increase of Aboriginal peoples who are attaining post-secondary degrees, especially among Aboriginal women. On the other hand, there are inadequate educational opportunities for most Aboriginal adults, which produces a cycle in which parents are unable promote education among their children. As a result, approximately 50 per cent of Aboriginal youth will drop out, or be pushed out, of high schools. Consequently, literacy is diminished, employment opportunities become limited, and the risk of poverty is increased for future generations (Cardinal, 2004, p. 35).
Since first contact with Europeans, racism and social exclusion has been at the forefront of Aboriginal-European relations. Some argue that the colonial system created social stratification along ethnic lines, with a consequent hierarchical distribution of resources, power, freedom and control, all of which ultimately influenced Aboriginal lives, (Loppie and Wien, 2009: 22). Bruce Trigger, for example, asserts that the foundation of contemporary Aboriginal injustice is rooted from the economic motives of European colonization and this aggression has persisted through the actions of the political elite throughout Canadian history (Trigger, 1985, p. 20). This has created barriers whereby Aboriginal participation and productivity in the national economy has not been on par with the rest of Canada. Suffice to say, without equitable distribution of resources, Aboriginal peoples cannot maintain an equitable level or income, education, or opportunity.
The Aboriginal population in Alberta continues to experience various forms of discrimination in this province. According to the Aboriginal Commission for Human Rights and Justice (2010):
- Aboriginal people experience more verbal attacks and threats than any other group but also experience discrimination in subtle ways such as indirect comments and jokes
- Aboriginals are the most targeted groups for hate and bias from law enforcement, work, school, and government.
- Discrimination impacts Aboriginal women more than other Aboriginal groups.
- Systemic discrimination continues to be present in Alberta. There is a lack of diversity on boards, in government, institutions, and in high-level employment positions.
- Aboriginal people do not report hate crimes for fear of victimization by the justice system.
Although Canada always ranks in the top five in the world on the United Nations Human Development Index, Aboriginal Canadians rank much lower. It has been argued that the income disparity between Aboriginal and the rest of Canada can be narrowed. The situation demands new approaches and solutions that should be recommended by Aboriginal people themselves. Canadian history has shown that neither the market or government policies, alone, have the ability to mend the income differences between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canadians.
Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights and Justice. (2010). The Aboriginal Perspective on Human Rights in Alberta. Edmonton: Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights and Justice.
Cardinal, J. (2004). First Nations in Alberta, A Focus on Health Use. Edmonton: Alberta Health and Wellness.
Loppie, C., & Wien, F. (2009). Health Inequalities and Social Determinants of Aboriginal Peoples' Health. National Collaborating Center for Aboriginal Health
Noel, A. (2009). Aboriginal Peoples and Poverty in Canada: Can Provincial Governments Make a Difference? Paper prepared for the Annual Meeting of the International Sociological Associations Research Committee 19 (RC19), (pp. 1-37). Montreal: Université de Montréal.
Salée, D (2006) Quality of Life of Aboriginal People in Canada: An Analysis of Current Research. IRPP Choices. 12(6), 23.
Statistics Canada. (2008). Aboriginal Peoples in Canada in 2006: Inuit, Métis and First Nations. 2006 Census. Ottawa: Ministry of Industry.
Trigger, B. (1985). Natives and Newcomers : Canadas Heroic Age Reconsidered. Kingston & Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press
Wilson, D., & Macdonald, D. (2010). The Income Gap Between Aboriginal Peoples and the Rest of Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives.