Canadians are frustrated with what they see as an endless flow of cash from federal coffers to Aboriginal People – with little to no results – according to an Ipsos Reid poll commissioned by Postmedia News.
On average, 64 per cent of those asked agreed with the statement “Canada’s Aboriginal People’s receive too much support from Canadian taxpayers.” But attitudes vary across regions. The numbers who thought this were highest in Alberta and British Columbia (79 per cent and 74 per cent respectively), but lowest in Ontario and Atlantic Canada (55 per cent and 59 per cent respectively).
As well, 66 per cent – two-thirds – agreed that “Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples are treated well by the Canadian government.”
In Quebec and Alberta, about three-quarters of those asked believe this is true. In Saskatchewan, however, barely half – 54 per cent – think aboriginals are well treated by the federal government.
“The Canadian public believes the government wants to make things better for the aboriginal population, and that they’re spending the money in order to do so,” said Ipsos Reid president Darrell Bricker. “But, when they see that life is not improving . . . they feel frustrated.”
Bricker said the frustration is aimed at all levels of government, including aboriginal leadership, for an “ongoing inability to get started in modern society that exists within the aboriginal community.”
However, Chief Clarence Louie of British Columbia’s Osooyoos First Nation said people in Canada’s three aboriginal groups don’t like the situation any more than taxpayers do.
Louie, who chairs the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, said when it comes to on-reserve populations, the root of the problem lies in the federal government’s funding formula. The majority of the $8 billion annual budget of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is spent on health, education and social programs, but Louie argued the only way out of poverty is to focus on economic development: looking at ways for the community to generate its own revenue, business plans, education and skills development.
He said the system has been perpetuated by “failed government programs” such as residential schools, the reserve system, and the “ongoing control that the government exerts over Indian land.”
During the historic Crown-First Nations Gathering earlier this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government’s focus was on creating jobs for aboriginal youths. Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaw lawyer and candidate for the Assembly of First Nations National Chief, called Harper’s plan “assimilationist,” saying it would break up communities and take First Nations in the same direction they’ve been going for years.
Louie disagreed. “Poverty is not our birthright. There’s nothing wrong with our people collecting a decent pay cheque.”
“Bands like Osooyoos – which operates a resort, golf course and winery in its territory – have shown that once we start making our own money, we have more to spend on programs and services for heritage and cultural preservation,” said Louie. “You have more of a chance of losing your heritage and culture in poverty than you will when you have your own source of revenue and you’re standing on your own two feet.”
Louie’s National Aboriginal Economic Development Board released a report last week that provides a snapshot of the gaps between Aboriginal People and other Canadians. The goal is to work with government and corporate partners to close those gaps within 10 years “by concentrating on skills and education and also supporting entrepreneurship within aboriginal communities.”
The Ipsos Reid poll shows that young people are less likely to believe aboriginals are well-treated by the government, though a majority of them still feel this way. Of Canadians aged 18 to 34, 56 per cent agreed with the statement “Canada’s aboriginal people are treated well by the Canadian government.” Three-quarters of respondents aged 35 to 54 agreed. And 67 per cent of those over 55 agreed.
In response to the statement “Canada’s Aboriginal People receive too much support from Canadian taxpayers,” younger and more well-educated respondents were less likely to agree than other age and education groups.
The online poll with 1,009 Canadians was conducted between June 11 and 18. Weighting was employed to balance demographics. It has an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Smaller subsets, such as regional breakdowns, have larger margins of error.