Cen­sus shows depth of low in­come

Some Abo­rig­i­nal re­serves have me­dian in­comes that fall be­low the poverty line

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - NATIONAL NEWS - JOR­DAN PRESS

OT­TAWA — Four out of ev­ery five Abo­rig­i­nal re­serves have me­dian in­comes that fall be­low the poverty line, ac­cord­ing to in­come data from the 2016 cen­sus that pro­vides in­sight into the depth of poverty fac­ing Indige­nous Peo­ples in Canada.

A Cana­dian Press re­view of cen­sus fig­ures for ar­eas iden­ti­fied as Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties found about 81 per cent of re­serves had me­dian in­comes be­low the low­in­come mea­sure, which Statis­tics Canada con­sid­ers to be $22,133 for one per­son.

In ab­so­lute num­bers, of the 367 re­serves for which there was data on to­tal in­di­vid­ual me­dian in­comes, 297 com­mu­ni­ties fell be­low the low-in­come mea­sure, while just 70 regis­tered me­dian in­comes above the de facto poverty line.

At the low­est end, 27 com­mu­ni­ties re­ported me­dian to­tal in­comes be­low $10,000.

Women fared marginally bet­ter than males, ac­cord­ing to the data. About 22 per cent of fe­male in­comes on-re­serve was over the low-in­come mea­sure, com­pared to about 19 per cent for males.

The in­come fig­ures come from tax fil­ings for 2015, the year the Trudeau Lib­er­als were elected in part on a prom­ise to im­prove eco­nomic out­comes for Indige­nous Peo­ples, who col­lec­tively face the harsh­est poverty and hous­ing con­di­tions in the coun­try.

The Lib­er­als are fi­nal­iz­ing a na­tional hous­ing strat­egy with spe­cific ini­tia­tives tar­get­ing Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, and have been meet­ing with Indige­nous lead­ers about what is needed in an Indige­nous-spe­cific poverty re­duc­tion strat­egy.

But the fig­ures are not a full pic­ture of Indige­nous Peo­ples in Canada. Many of the com­mu­ni­ties regis­tered so few res­i­dents that data had to be sup­pressed out of con­cerns for their pri­vacy.

Statis­tics Canada plans to pro­vide more ro­bust cen­sus data at the end of the month as part of its on­go­ing ef­fort to paint a five-year por­trait of the evolv­ing Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion.

So far, the emerg­ing pic­ture of Indige­nous Peo­ples liv­ing on re­serve shows a sig­nif­i­cantly younger pop­u­la­tion — thanks to a fer­til­ity rate that far ex­ceeds its non-Indige­nous coun­ter­part — but with shorter life ex­pectan­cies and much lower in­comes.

In Septem­ber, Statis­tics Canada re­ported a spike in in­come lev­els in 2015, thanks to a prior boom in com­mod­ity prices, par­tic­u­larly in the Prairies, that pushed me­dian to­tal house­hold in­come to $70,336, up 10.8 per cent from a decade ear­lier.

Only 26 of the 503 of re­serves with in­come data had higher me­dian house­hold in­comes. To­tals — which in­clude sources such as em­ploy­ment, in­vest­ments and gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits — ranged from $13,168 in Man­i­toba’s Roseau River First Na­tion to $114,381 in Cree Na­tion of Chisa­s­ibi on the eastern shore of James Bay in Que­bec.

What’s not clear from the num­bers is pre­cisely how those in­comes are earned, whether re­sources are shared or if those who do bet­ter have spe­cific ad­van­tages over those who do not. Each com­mu­nity is dif­fer­ent, said Mar­shall Bal­lard, di­rec­tor of busi­ness, em­ploy­ment and so­cial de­vel­op­ment with the Na­tive Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada.

Indige­nous lead­ers have pushed the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment to help those com­mu­ni­ties where the need is great­est.

In meet­ings last week, As­sem­bly of First Na­tions Na­tional Chief Perry Bel­le­garde called for a meet­ing be­tween Indige­nous, fed­eral and pro­vin­cial lead­ers next year to work on clos­ing the eco­nomic gap with the wider pop­u­la­tion.

Pre­vi­ous re­search has shown that Indige­nous Peo­ples reg­u­larly earn less than the me­dian in­come.

A 2014 study found they were al­most as dis­ad­van­taged as in 2006 as they were 25 years ear­lier in 1981.

Some of that is tied to lo­ca­tion, or the ge­og­ra­phy lot­tery, as some com­mu­ni­ties know it, Bal­lard said. Lo­ca­tion, he said, can make all the dif­fer­ence in the pros­per­ity of the com­mu­nity.

Martin Cooke, one of the au­thors of that 2014 study, said pre­vi­ous re­search has sug­gested in­come isn’t al­ways tied to lo­ca­tion, such as be­ing in a re­mote com­mu­nity.

“There’s not a clear ge­o­graphic pat­tern,” said Cooke, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the School of Pub­lic Health and Health Sys­tems at the Univer­sity of Water­loo.

“To me that’s the in­ter­est­ing thing: It’s not all ge­og­ra­phy.”

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