|Previous Article||Next Article||FNPI Search||Home||Previous Year||Next Year||Year List|
Canada's Indians have experienced steadily improving economic conditions over the past 20 years, but a report entitled Indian Conditions - a Survey, prepared by the federal government, shows many of them still face grave problems.
According to the report, a sobering 153-page reference work for Indians themselves as well as officials and others in the field, the more than 300,000 Indians have a substantially shorter life expectancy than other Canadians and are more prone to violent death. Indian suicide rate is three times the national average, alcoholism remains rampant and all this is linked with substandard living conditions and increasingly disproportionate numbers receiving social assistance.
A positive aspect of the report focused on political and cultural development in the past two decades. On the political front, the study identified major positive changes, notable growth of band council government.
"At the same time, Indian leaders maintain a wholesome skepticism towards the intent of government policy to reinforce Indian status and avoid Indian assimilation, an attitude that is probably essential to ensure that Indian identity is maintained", the report says.
Indians and officials interviewed for the report suggested that, if the emphasis can be on rebuilding a foundation of a thriving Indian culture, many of the other problems, social and economic, should begin to improve faster than they have been in the past 20 years.
There were only about 180,000 Indians in Canada in 1961, starting point of the study, and the 67 per cent growth since then has meant the Indian population has mushroomed in relation to the rest of the population. As a result, the Indian population is younger than the rest, on average, and there has been a consequent massive impact on education, social services and the job market.
Interviews and data showed that while Indian life had improved "in some material ways", such as better and more housing, one of every three Indian families lives in crowded conditions and many homes have no running water or sewage disposal.
It is a situation that would take five years at double the current residential construction rate to correct. In the meantime, living conditions many Indians have to contend with contribute to the high incidence of respiratory, parasitic and other diseases as well as to an inordinately high number of fire deaths.
Only Quebec and the four Atlantic Provinces have adequate fire protection services on more than 40 per cent of their reserves and the number of fire deaths among Indians is seven times the national average. Motor vehicle deaths are more than double that of the rest of Canada; poisoning and drug overdoses are five times as high and deaths by firearms a staggering 43 times as bad.
The suicide rate among Indians varies, but it averages three times the national rate when all age groups are taken into account. It is worst in the 15-to-24 age group, which will be the biggest sector of the Indian population within five years, where there are approximately 130 suicides per 100,000 population annually compared with a national ratio of about 19 per 100,000.
Other mirrors of the overall picture are the facts that between 50 and 60 per cent of deaths and illnesses among Indians are alcohol related and that the deterioration of family life and general social conditions have contributed in a major way to the large number of children in the care of agencies and the high level of juvenile delinquency.
An outgrowth of the delinquency rate is the high ratio of Indians in penitentiaries: some 280 per 100,000 as opposed to 40 per 100,000 nationally, a difference of 700 per cent. The problem is particularly acute in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, but it also is a significant factor in Saskatchewan and Manitoba when measured against the other provinces. In addition to blaming general conditions, the report cites "the scarcity of preventive services and of support systems for Indians as alternatives to jail."
Insofar as education is concerned, elementary enrolment is consistent with national trends. On the other hand, while secondary enrolment has more than doubled since 1965, the proportion of children enrolling has dropped dishearteningly since a 1972-73 peak. High school completion has improved modestly, but the Indian rate remains less than a quarter of the national rate.
The report suggests that "an inordinate proportion are being discouraged at the secondary level" because of a lack of on-reserve school facilities. However, it says Indians definitely are interested in education, citing the increased attendance at universities, community colleges and government training centres.
Recent estimates, which vary widely because of an absence of reliable surveys, of Indian unemployment range from 35 to 75 per cent. A major hurdle evidently is the Indian's basic preference for working close to home (in an essentially rural job market that is unable to satisfy demand). The report suggests that a partial answer to the unemployment problem lies in development of the potential of Indian lands, which traditionally have been used at a bare subsistence level in most cases. Reserves have a potential for development of agriculture, forestry hunting and general recreation. As well, the subsurface mineral potential has grown markedly, especially in cases where oil and natural gas are concerned.
Since 1972, Indian revenues from this source have increased about tenfold, reaching $103 million in 1978-79. There also are good to excellent proven deposits of metallic, non-metallic and structural (such as sand and gravel) minerals to be exploited.
"The increasing experience of Indians with establishing and financing Indian-run businesses is expected to create a commercial and industrial momentum on reserves and attract private capital, thereby reducing Indian dependence on government security."
This thrust toward self-sufficiency is reflected in the increasing Indian management of government programs which, the report says, "will continue to transform the government's role as a facilitative one, with greater need to support the development of band planning and management capabilities." Indians are now managing more than a third of the Indian program budget directly.
There remain, however, doubts about the effectiveness of government programs. Interviewers heard complaints, for example, about "too much apparent haste to achieve results" and the destructiveness of welfare.
The study notes that federal spending on Indian programs has not kept pace with funding for other, programs, increasing by only 14 per cent per capita in real terms since 1970-71 compared with 128 per cent in other federal social programs.
Total departmental spending on Indians is projected at $809 million in the 1980-81 fiscal year compared with an actual $223 in 1970-71 and approximately $36 million in 1960-61 when the department was the Indian affairs branch of Citizenship and Immigration.
Total federal spending on Indians actually is higher because funds from other departments come into play. These include cultural grants from the Secretary of State, health services from National Health and Welfare, Canada Mortgage and Housing, the department of regional economic expansion and Employment and Immigration. The last complete year given in the report is 1978-79 when Indian Affairs spent $659 million and other departments and agencies $170 million, boosting the total of $827 million.