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Pursuing Reconciliation: The Case for an Off-Reserve Urban Agenda

John Richards
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John Richards: Simon Fraser University

C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, 2018, issue 526

Abstract: Under the current government, Ottawa has significantly increased funding of basic social services (health, education, social assistance and housing) for Indigenous peoples living on-reserve. Overall, these have been worthy exercises in pursuit of reconciliation with those First Nation people wishing to live communally. According to two measures of poverty, rates of poverty among Métis and Inuit are higher than among the non-Indigenous majority, but the most severe poverty exists among those identifying as First Nation. However, census figures show that those who are eligible to live on-reserve are increasingly, choosing to migrate off-reserve and into cities. Today, among all who identify as First Nation, only a third live on-reserve. Although, on average, those who identify as Indigenous and live off-reserve fare better than those on-reserve in terms of education, employment and income, there remains a substantial gap between this group and the non-Indigenous population in all three areas. In view of these trends, reconciliation requires not just an on-reserve agenda, but also an off-reserve urban agenda. An examination of census data and a major survey of off-reserve Indigenous people this century yields three conclusions. The first is that the majority of First Nation people now live in a city; the majority of Métis now live in a large city. Moreover, most urban Indigenous people do not intend to return permanently to their original rural communities, or to reserves. The second conclusion from recent census data is that, for all identity populations, employment earnings and employment rates are positively associated with education level. Closing the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people would reduce significantly the earnings gap between the two groups. A third conclusion is the importance of the role of provincial governments in closing the earnings gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. To the extent that successful reconciliation between the two groups entails enabling the next generation of Indigenous Canadians to escape poverty, achieving better K-12 and post-secondary education levels among them must be a high priority. Given that two-thirds of the First Nation population live off-reserve and that one-third of children living on-reserve attend off-reserve (largely provincial) schools, it is of paramount importance that provincial education ministries participate centrally in pursuing this goal. If the provinces were to pursue an aggressive off-reserve education strategy, there should be no illusion that the education gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations could be closed quickly. Such a strategy would require extensive policy discussion with Indigenous leaders, senior public school administrators, education faculties responsible for training teachers, and teachers’ unions. It no doubt would require a significant increase in provincial pre–K-12 education budgets. To sum up, the federal government has accorded reconciliation a high priority in terms of respect for treaty rights and increased funding for on-reserve services. To date, neither Ottawa nor the provinces nor the leaders of Indigenous organizations have given comparable financial and political priority to realizing goals – education goals in particular –among the majority of the Indigenous population that lives off-reserve.

Keywords: Education, Skills and Labour Market; First Nations (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I24 J15 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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