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End child poverty: Where there’s a will, here’s the way [editorial]

Author: 
Windspeaker Staff
Volume: 
34
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2016

 
As we go to press, a new study has been released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and we’d like to draw our readers’ attention to it. It’s entitled “Shameful Neglect: Indigenous Child Poverty in Canada.” It can be viewed here: https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/shameful-neglect.

The report starts with an “outrageous reality.” The majority of children on First Nation reserves in Canada live in poverty. That’s 60 per cent as of the most recent stats. And this report states the situation is becoming worse for our children.

When one looks at the statistics for rates of children living in poverty, it is stunning enough to learn that 30 per cent of non-status First Nations children struggle under the poverty line with not enough resources to sustain them, with Inuit children (25%) and Métis children (23%), not far behind.

But the on reserve stats are incomprehensible.

“The worst is among status First Nation children,” the report reads, “51% of whom live in poverty, rising to 60% on reserve.”

SIXTY PER CENT!

And the rates of poverty become sickening in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “Shocking” at 76 per cent in Manitoba, reads the report, an understatement of such magnitude it makes the blood boil. In Saskatchewan it’s 69 per cent.

The frustrating, maddening, even criminal thing about our situation here in Canada is that there are solutions to child poverty at hand, but Canada and the provinces just refuse to adopt them. Outright refuse to allow the benefits of the land to flow to the first peoples of the land.

We hear often from pundits who are not as informed as they should be about such matters that there are no opportunities around remote and isolated reserves, but we reject that characterization of our homes. The bottom line is that it isn’t true.

What those people mean is that there are no opportunities that Canada, the provinces and big business are willing to share. They let the children starve as they deny the opportunities at hand in favor of steadfast and stubborn turf protection.

The report reads:
“At the other end is Quebec where the poverty rate is 37%,” reads the report. “This is largely due to the relatively low poverty rate (23%) among the children of Eeyou Itschee (James Bay Cree), who benefit from a resource revenue sharing agreement.”

and

“Reserves are often located in remote and rural areas, which may restrict access to employment that is otherwise available in more populated, urban areas. On the other hand, resource development is more likely to happen in remote locations. As observed above, non-Indigenous child poverty is ac tually lower in rural areas compared to urban areas. As such, merely living in a rural area does not assure higher child poverty rates.”

The report offers up short-term solutions, including investments to improve education success among children living in poverty, because that’s a road that leads to opportunities for our young people.

“The education level is quite low among status First Nations parents with children living in poverty… Al most 60% of status First Nations parents with children in poverty did not graduate high school…  this shortfall is due to the long shadow of resi dential schools and the result of chronic underfunding of reserve schools. Low levels of education, over and above the limitations imposed by geog raphy, make a good job that much harder to obtain. With this in mind, it is likely that adult education in literacy and numeracy, as well as high school equivalence, are also important to reducing child poverty through better parental employment.”

But it’s the long-term solutions that will bring the hammer down on poverty for Indigenous populations, with an ultimate benefit to Canada, if it would only get out of its own way—sustainable funding for reserves, resource revenue sharing agreements, and self-government.

Canada has the solutions to child poverty at its finger-tips, it always has, and it has always known it has. But Canada and the provinces have shown no will to do what is necessary; to do the right thing. Canada, so far, willfully chooses to patch over the problems and do anything but what it knows will work.

The report concludes:
“For Canada’s youngest and fastest-growing population, it is critical that we come to terms with the ongoing crisis affecting Indigenous people and act immediately to help resolve it. The circumstances in which these young people find themselves on reserve reproduce the nightmare of residential schools, with which Canada is only now beginning to come to terms. The growth of Indigenous child poverty in Canada cannot be allowed to con tinue until another generation is lost.”

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