The umbrella term “Indigenous” includes three distinct groups with Indigenous rights as outlined in Canada’s constitution: First Nations; Métis; and Inuit. For a useful Glossary of Terms, please visit the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada website at: http://www.fncaringsociety.com/glossary
Indigenous children and families in Canada face unique challenges due to inequities in government services and the continued of impact colonial history, policies and ideology. Many of these challenges are structural or systemic in nature, beyond the control of individual caregivers. For instance, more than one hundred First Nation communities in Canada are living under boil water advisories, while residing in a country famous for its abundant, clean water.
Canada ranks 4th on the U.N. Human Development Index, but would rank 78th if we allowed for statistics on Indigenous poverty. One in four Indigenous children live in poverty and forty-two percent lack basic dental care. Indigenous peoples are four times more likely to live in crowded homes badly in need repair. Moreover, Canada’s Indigenous population is young and growing rapidly – more than six times faster than the non-Indigenous population. Almost half (48%) of Indigenous people in Canada are under 25. Increasingly, Indigenous peoples are living in urban areas with more than one in four (26%) in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Despite the Prime Minister’s 2008 apology for residential schools and promise of a new relationship based on reconciliation and respect, First Nations, Métis and Inuit children across Canada continue to face systemic disadvantage across a wide range of government services and programs, as well as ongoing racial and cultural discrimination embedded in everyday systems and interactions. First Nations schools on reserve, for example, receive approximately $2,000 less per student, per year than provincially funded schools (www.shannensdream.ca). Families living on reserve receive fewer child welfare supports than those served by provincial agencies (www.fnwitness.ca) and First Nations children on reserve experience significant barriers to health care services (www.jordansprinciple.ca).
The impacts of these inequities can be seen in the poor health and social outcomes experienced by many Indigenous children and families. Sadly, Indigenous peoples in Canada have a shorter life expectancy and are more likely to experience serious health issues like tuberculosis and diabetes. Indigenous suicide rates are 11 times higher than other people in Canada. Other pressing examples include the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, the over representation of Indigenous women and men in Canada’s prison system, and lower high school graduation rates.
Change is possible. Despite the continued and inter-generational impacts of colonialism, Indigenous peoples across Canada continue to practice and exercise traditional knowledge, including social, economic and political traditions. Changes to school curriculum, coupled with the educational work of Indigenous communities, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, church groups, social justice organizations and others, has led to increased knowledge about Canada’s colonial history and the systemic disadvantages faced by Indigenous children and communities. There is a growing push toward meaningful reconciliation grounded in systemic change, equity, self-determination and respect.
Children and youth have been at the forefront of reconciliation in Canada. The efforts of young people have led to the unanimous adoption of Motions in support of Shannen’s Dream (for safe and comfortable schools and quality education in First Nations communities) and Jordan’s Principle (for equity in government services) in the House of Commons, a new school in Attawapiskat, Ontario, and the continuation of the First Nations child welfare case at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Educators report that social justice education yields positive benefits for students academically and socially as they apply their knowledge, ideas and heart to address issues they care about.
Finally, it is important to emphasize that there are solutions. Ending Indigenous child poverty requires a fundamental shift in public understanding and engagement. It is often said that Indigenous issues are “complicated” or that the problems are so big that it is hard to know where to start. This discourse is used by the Federal government and others to justify inaction, and overlooks the hundreds of strong, viable recommendations issued by independent bodies like the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Auditor General of Canada. It is not a question of solutions, but rather of political will. As citizens, we have a responsibility to press for action and demand better. Discrimination and poverty should never be easier than equality and justice.
Want to learn more? Here are some organizations and a few documents that provide a well-grounded foundation for better understanding the particular circumstances of poverty in Indigenous communities.
Shannen’s Dream: www.shannensdream.ca
Jordan’s Principle: www.jordansprinciple.ca
I am a witness campaign: www.fnwitness.ca
Campaign 2000:End Child Poverty in Canada – Annual Report Card
The federal government is solely responsible for supporting and providing services and income support in First Nations communities…[In these communities], one in two kids (50%) live in poverty.
2014 Report Card, Campaign 2000, Canada
First Nations Child & Family Caring Society
Founded in 1998, the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society works to ensure First Nations children and their families have equitable opportunities to grow up safely at home, be healthy, achieve their dreams, celebrate their languages and culture and be proud of who they are. www.fncaringsociety.com
Canadian Feed the Children National Aboriginal Nutrition Program
The Canadian Feed the Children organization has a National Aboriginal Nutrition Program. Canadian Feed the Children works with local partners to fund school breakfast and lunch programs as well as to deliver nutrition education to families and communities.
Assembly of First Nations
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is a national advocacy organization representing First Nation citizens in Canada, which includes more than 900,000 people living in 634 First Nations communities, and in cities and towns across the country.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) is the national Inuit organization in Canada, representing four Inuit regions – Nunatsiavut (Labrador), Nunavik (northern Quebec), Nunavut, and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories.
Métis National Council
The Métis National Council (MNC) represents the Métis Nation nationally and internationally.
National Association of Friendship Centres – Aboriginal Youth Council
The mission of the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) is to improve the quality of life for Indigenous peoples in an urban environment. http://nafc.ca
The NAFC’s Aboriginal Youth Council discusses and identifies youth priority issues, including: stay in school initiatives, healing and wellness; suicide prevention; preserving culture and heritage; cross-cultural awareness; homelessness; youth leadership; and employment and training.
Poverty or Prosperity – Indigenous children in Canada
According to a report released in 2013 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 40% of Indigenous Children in Canada live in poverty. According to the report, Indigenous kids trail the rest of Canada’s children on practically every measure of wellbeing: family income, educational attainment, crowding and homelessness, poor water quality, infant mortality, health and suicide.” You can view the report and additional information here:
Poverty as a Social Determinant of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Health
The National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health published this four-page document in 2010 on Poverty as a Social Determinant of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Health.