PSAC Statement on National Aboriginal Peoples' Day
June 21, 2008
Making Aboriginal Poverty History
PSAC Fact Sheet
National Aboriginal Peoples' Day, June 21, 2008
Too many Aboriginal people live in poverty in Canada. The statistics speak for themselves:
One in four First Nations children live in poverty.
Diabetes among First Nations people is at least three times the national average.
Recent Census data shows that 23 per cent of Aboriginal people live in houses in need of major repairs, compared to just 7 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population.
Overcrowding among First Nations families is double the rate of that for all Canadian families. A recent government study found that more than half of Inuit families live in overcrowded conditions. Some three-bedroom homes are known to house as many as 20 people.
More than 100 First Nations communities are under boil water advisories right now, meaning they have little or no access to clean water for drinking and sanitation.
First Nations people suffer from Third World diseases such as tuberculosis at eight to 10 times the rate of Canadians in general.
More than half of First Nations people are not employed.
One Aboriginal child in eight is disabled, double the rate of all children in Canada.
Among First Nations children, 43 per cent lack basic dental care.
Aboriginal children are drastically over-represented in the child welfare system
High school graduation rates for First Nations youth are half the Canadian rate.
First Nations youth commit suicide at five to eight times the Canadian rate. The suicide rate for Inuit youth is six times as high as in the rest of the country.
The majority of Inuit people in Canada live in remote arctic communities that make it difficult for them to access medical services and consumer goods. A 2005 Statistics Canada report found that 56 per cent of Nunavut respondents stated that their household lacked the money over the past year to buy enough quality food to eat. In the North, junk food is often much cheaper than nutritious food, because it is so much easier to ship.
More than half of First Nations and Inuit people are under 25 years of age. This is the fastest growing population in Canada If poverty is not addressed today, it will continue to negatively impact First Nations families for generations to come.
Aboriginal poverty occurs within the context of poverty in Canada overall. Adjusted for inflation, many provincial welfare rates are now lower than they were in 1986. Low-wage, non-unionized jobs don't pay much more than social assistance, leaving thousands of families – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – struggling below the poverty line.
While the housing situation on First Nations reserves is especially problematic, the situation is not much better in the rest of the country, leaving many urban Aboriginal people with insecure living situations. The lack of affordable housing in Canada led Miloon Kothari, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, to declare homelessness a “national emergency.” The National Homelessness Secretariat has suggested that there might be 150,000 homeless people in Canada, although experts and academic institutions have suggested that the actual number of homeless people may be at least double that amount.
In the North, Inuit homelessness is an invisible problem, because harsh weather conditions mean that people can't sleep on the street. But according to a 2007 study by the Quilliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, this invisibility masks the fact that Inuit people are living in overcrowded or inadequate homes due to a lack of affordable housing or emergency shelters.
While Canada's social safety net has suffered from years of government cuts, First Nations communities are bearing even more of the burden. As the Assembly of First Nations points out, spending on First Nations is half the amount for average Canadians: $7,000-$8,000 compared to $15,000-$16,000. Since 2000, First Nations budgets have declined by almost 13 per cent. By contrast, Canada Health and Social Transfers to provinces are growing at an average rate of 6.6 per cent per year.
More than 12 years ago, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples made extensive recommendations to improve the situation of Aboriginal Peoples, however, these recommendations were either ignored or ineffectively implemented.
Time for action
In recent months, the Canadian government refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples and backed away from the Kelowna Accord that dedicated $5.1 billion to improving the socioeconomic conditions of Aboriginal people in Canada.
The current Harper government is turning its back on Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Strong, vibrant, healthy and prosperous Aboriginal communities make for a better and more equitable country. What we need is the political will to make it happen.
-- With information from the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Women of Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Campaign 2000 and Statistics Canada.
- Making Aboriginal poverty history
- First Nations water reaches its boiling point
- Ending violence against Aboriginal women
Date Modified : 2010/01/29