B.C.’s First Nations communities are doing better than their neighbours in other western provinces in terms of employment rates – but continue to fall behind the non-indigenous population.
That is a problem, says a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute and social policy scholar John Richards, since a higher employment is vital to boosting the well-being of First Nation communities (an area where Canadian policy makers have routinely neglected or dismissed).
According to Richards’ report, “No Easy Answers: Insights into Community Well-being among First Nations,” data from Indigenous Services Canada’s Community Well-Being Index shows that communities with access to business opportunities – including those “with treaty rights relevant to development of resource projects” – score significantly higher in terms of well-being.
Those communities, however, are in the minority, Richards said. And while there is no easy solution for raising the standard-of-living for First Nations community struggling within the Canadian economy, “recognition of First Nation treaty claims over resource-related employment” must be a part of the equation, he noted.
“The problems arising from low employment are particularly acute in the Prairies,” Richards wrote, where employment rates for indigenous communities have stagnated in Manitoba and Saskatchewan (while actually declining in Alberta) since 1981. “... To acknowledge the dire effects of low employment in many First Nation communities does not deny the destructive historical legacy of discrimination toward the Indigenous population; it does, however, imply a renewed priority to address low employment. “
According to the data (based on the 2016 Census), B.C.’s First Nations employment rate sits at about 51.4% - higher than the three prairie provinces (at roughly or just below 40%). The housing, income and education indexes for B.C. First Nations are also higher across the board than the figures recorded in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
But the 51.4% figure looks far less positive when placed next to the employment rates of other, non-indigenous communities (70%), meaning that while the gap is narrower than elsewhere in Western Canada, a wide gap still exists.
Richards noted several policy factors that need to take place, items such as improved education resources, better job prospects for First Nations members wanting to leave their communities, and renewed focus on rural/remote communities (and their needs). But he also said that all of the reforms needed are expensive and complex, meaning there is a lack of a “silver bullet” solution that can resolve the social problems that form the basis of lower employment – and, therefore lower quality-of-life – in these communities.
B.C., for its part, is doing better because of its higher performance in one particular area, Richards said.
“Among the provinces with large First Nation populations, B.C. has indisputably been the most successful over the last quarter century in achieving high-school certification among young adults living on-reserve,” he said. “... Addressing the problems over the next generation will require recognition of First Nation treaty claims over resource-related employment and income, competent First Nation governance of local services, acceptance of out-migration as part of the solution – and higher quality schools.”
The full report can be read at https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/attachments/research_papers/mixed/Final%20E-Brief_304.pdf .