SASKATOON – Saskatchewan’s First Nation people have an unemployment rate close to five times higher than non-aboriginal residents, according to September’s labour force survey.
Unemployment for First Nations people was 18.5 per cent averaged over a three month period, compared to non-aboriginals, who boast a 3.8 per cent unadjusted employment rate, the lowest in Canada.
“If somebody tells you that First Nations folks in Saskatchewan have an eighteen percent unemployment rate, it’s much higher than that,” said Ken Coates, a University of Saskatchewan professor in the school of Public Policy.
“Those unemployment rates recognize people who are currently looking for work. If somebody had been trying for a long time and had been unable to do so they don’t show up on the statistics anymore,” he added.
The First Nations distinction does not include Métis or Inuit. The three month average for Saskatchewan’s total Aboriginal population is 12 per cent.
Although it’s a complex issue, one thing most experts can agree on is that education is one of the key factors to lowering the jobless rate.
“Our youth, I believe, are our starting point. We need to ensure that they are getting a good education right through into post secondary from elementary,” said James Ouellette of the Saskatoon Tribal Council.
“First Nations people have trouble getting out of high school, therefore have trouble getting into college or university, therefore they have trouble getting the skills that are in highest demand in our economy,” added Coates.
One group that is trying to make a difference is the Saskatoon Friendship Inn.
Director Lynda Brazeau said that she tries to hire people directly from the Riversdale community, where they are located. All but three of her full-time, floor staff, is of First Nations descent.
“No one can serve this neighborhood better than people who know this demographic,” said Brazeau.
One of her employees, David FineDay, said a stable job has changed the way he lives.
“I don’t have to worry about where I am going to sleep tonight or am I going to be cold, is it going to rain,” said FineDay, who’s worked at the Inn for around a year.
“I was out there, I know what it’s like, I didn’t like that feeling, I didn’t want my kids to go through that.”
FineDay worked sporadically as a roofer for three years before finding employment at the Friendship Inn as one of Brazeau’s staff members.
October’s labour force survey results are due to be released this Friday.