A wealth of new data

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Aboriginal education was the main focus of a recent seminar.

Aboriginal education was the main focus of a recent seminar.

New statistics on Aboriginal people in Canada

Article: Christell Simeon – Contributor

The population of Aboriginals in Canada grew by approximately one-fifth between 2006 and 2011, according to the findings from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) by Statistics Canada. Providing information about the Aboriginal population was the essence of a public policy seminar held on Feb. 18. The seminar was organized by the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and hosted at the U of R College Building.

The seminar entitled ‘A Wealth of New Data’ was open to students, public sector employees and the public. The first presentation was delivered by Tasha Felix, Advisor in the Aboriginal Liaison Program, of Statistics Canada who reported on the findings of the 2011 National Household Survey relevant to the Aboriginal population. The total size of the Aboriginal population based on survey data was just over 1.4 million or 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population. The Aboriginal population is divided among the First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples, of which the First Nations has the largest population size.

According to Tasha Felix, “60.8 per cent of Aboriginal people report a First Nations single identity.” With relation to the province of Saskatchewan, the household survey revealed that 10.2 per cent of the Aboriginal population reports a First Nations identity with 57.8 per cent of them living in reserves throughout the province. In contrast to the other Aboriginal groups, close to three-quarters of the Inuit people live in Inuit Nunangat, which is their traditional homeland territory in the Northern part of Canada, the 2011 survey confirmed.

The most interesting finding of this survey was the pronouncement of the significant difference in the age between Aboriginals and the non-Aboriginal population. According to Tasha Felix, “the median age for the Aboriginal population is 28, whereas the median age for the non-Aboriginal population is 41.” This confirms that the Aboriginal population is significantly younger than the non-Aboriginal population. The Inuit is the youngest of the Aboriginal population. In Saskatchewan, based on the survey findings, 34 per cent of the Aboriginal population is under the age of 15 and the median age is 29.

Two areas of great concern that are evident from the survey is the decline in the ability of Aboriginals to conduct a conversation in their own native language, and the gap between people of Aboriginal identity who complete high school or equivalent education and non-Aboriginal people who complete the same level of education. There was approximately a 4 per cent decline in those Aboriginal people who were able to conduct a conversation in their native language from the 2006 survey, with the Inuit having the most ability to do so.

Advisor in Aboriginal Liaison Program, Tasha Felix highlighted the “20 point” difference between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal population with regards to completion of high-school or equivalent education. This, of course, ultimately affects their ability to obtain a job, earning power and quality of life. Based on survey results, only 45.3 per cent of persons claiming Aboriginal identity gain employment without a high school diploma or equivalent. Of those who do finish high school, the survey affirms the tendency for the Aboriginal population to complete more trade certificates and college diplomas than university degrees.

The second part of the presentation was led by Susan Wallace, an analyst in the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division. Her focus was on the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey, which details the education, employment, health and other core components such as language, housing and mobility of the Aboriginal population. This survey is different from the 2011 NHS because it is not mandatory and it collects information only from persons of Aboriginal identity. Persons of Aboriginal identity are persons who recognized themselves or their descent as being Aboriginal. The sample size of the survey was 51,000 or just under 4 per cent of the total Aboriginal population in Canada. A key point highlighted was the high school completion rates of First Nations people between the ages of 18 to 44 living off the reserve, which was 72 per cent nationally, and 69 per cent in Saskatchewan. The advantage of this survey was its ability to provide details as to the characteristics of those Aboriginal students who did not complete high school or its equivalent. Susan Wallace referred to them as ‘leavers’ whereas those who complete high school are called ‘completers.’

According to the survey, some of the personal characteristics of these ‘leavers’ include skipping classes, arriving late to school and changing schools frequently. Also, the main family characteristic of these ‘leavers’ was that they had siblings who had dropped out of school. The survey additionally uncovered that the primary reasons for teenage girls dropping out of school were pregnancy or child-care responsibilities, while for the opposite sex, the primary reasons were money problems or desire to work.

However, finding a job is definitely not an easy task. The 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey underlined the major reasons for the lower employment rates of Aboriginals which were: shortage of jobs, lack of education, work inexperience, and no transportation only for those First Nations living off the reserve.

The audience was very participative in the presentation. Questions were raised about disability and health issues concerning the Aboriginal population. As to future surveys, Susan Wallace declared that she was unable to confirm if and when there will be another Aboriginal Peoples Survey. Overall, the seminar was extremely informative and enlightening and hopefully, for those who didn’t attend, this will give better insight into these developments and new statistics.

Image: Emily Wright

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