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Census not a huge concern for most Aboriginal people.

EDMONTON

It's lunchtime at the Canadian Native Friendship Centre in Edmonton and questions about the 2006 census report are the last thing on the minds of Aboriginal people here.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The room fills quickly with urban Aboriginal people as they share a free soup and bannock meal that is offered at this friendship centre weekly. Windspeaker asks a number of Aboriginal people here if they participated in the census, but no one seems to remember.

Finally Jeremy Busch said he might have taken part in it.

Busch volunteers in the kitchen on community lunch day and takes some time to enjoy his food with everyone else. While the 32 year-old is a member of the Cold Lake First Nations, he lives and attends school in Edmonton.

Busch said he vaguely remembers telling someone how many people were living in his household at one time, but he did not fill out any forms that identify him as an Aboriginal person. He doesn't believe in the numbers collected on Aboriginal people. But it should be about how the government can do better than 100 years ago, he said.

"Native people are still dealing with the past, and we are still the poorest. We have adapted our language and our way of life and still, we are trying to do better for ourselves. Yeah we are still here," said Busch.

The issues for him are about how much work there is available now for and with Aboriginal people, he said. The statistics prove there are still many jobs for social workers in the government, for doctors, lawyers, and psychiatrists because Aboriginal people are still dealing with effects of residential schools, states Busch.

"How can you educate people that have no respect for school after what has happened? I think why they collect the numbers is to understand how many there are to deal with. I still think that there is more that has to be done and that it has to be with the young people," said Busch.

Aboriginal kids are actually waiting to see what they are going to be part of and especially those in the urban areas are asking how do they fit in, he said. He believes Aboriginal people are moving forward, but are still trying to catch up to mainstream ideals of education and work.

It's been a struggle to care for his one son, because he is dealing with issues surrounding poverty. Now, Busch wonders if he is supposed to go and work for the oil companies, or for Aboriginal organizations. While he believes going to school is part of the answer to some of the troubling issues he is facing; he's still unsure of the future.

The up side to having Aboriginal people officially at over a million is that makes him feel good about being an Indian, he said. "We don't have to prove we are here," said Busch.

At a round dance in honour of Rose Auger held on Enoch First Nation near Edmonton several hundred Aboriginal people gather to remember a departed community member, socialize and enjoy a feast.

When some people here are asked if they participated in the 2006 census on Aboriginal people, most can only remember the headlines from last month.

"I have some idea about it, I heard we are at a million now, but I don't know if that is treaty Indians or non status Indians," said Robert Johnson, a member of Samson First Nation, Hobbema.

The census report is not something Johnson has really thought about and he doesn't remember filling out any forms for the census.

"The census results are most important to the government and for some Aboriginal groups to use for funding purposes," he said. "Not all First Nations would use the figures and statistics from the census because they are working towards self-sufficiency and keeping their own statistics,"

"I think it's a good thing to have that kind of information, if there is a million of us in Canada, but how do you determine if they are Native or do they just claim they are," he said.

If the government really wants to be accurate they may want to do DNA tests to really find out who has Aboriginal ancestry, added Johnson.

"Many people now think being Aboriginal is good, and there might be some financial benefits to saying you are, he states. In the 1950's and 1960's not everyone wanted to admit they are Aboriginal and maybe now that Aboriginal people have assimilated a bit more and some are not as dark skinned, it may not be such a bad thing," said Johnson.

National Aboriginal organizations are now analyzing the census reports not only for use in proving the need for programs and services, but also to check if Statistics Canada is giving an accurate picture of Aboriginal people.

During a telephone interview with Beverly Jacobs, President of National Women's Association of Canada, she tells Windspeaker that the census needs to include a culturally relevant gender based analysis.

"A lot of what we look at is in the statistics about seeing if they make the difference between genders, how that has an impact on programs and services and how that will affect Aboriginal women," said Jacobs.

On and off reserve the issues are about housing, issues of violence against Aboriginal women, she said. When dealing with the Indian Act system a lot of people are not aware it is a system of control for our communities, she said. It creates a cycle of poverty that leaves Aboriginal women and their children in the most vulnerable positions that are then open to violence against them, she stated.

As a national organization with provincial and territorial organizations across the country, NWAC represents grassroots women and creates awareness about the issues facing Aboriginal women in Canada with fewer resources than any other national organization, she states.

"The resources and I mean the lack of resources that are put into communities are what creates that whole systemic problem, so the issues on reserve and the limited resources causes a lot of the internal conflict," said Jacob. And the cycle continues.

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations was unavailable for comment by press time, but according to the Special Advisor of the AFN they are analyzing the census data to pinpoint inaccuracies.

In the AFN's preliminary analysis of the number of First Nations counted there are fundamental problems.

In addition to registered Indians, two other groups of Aboriginal people, were included a group called Aboriginal ancestry whose data was not reported on except for the large total population figure and then there was this other group called Aboriginal identity," said Daniel Wilson, special advisor to the AFN.

The First Nations data is tied together with registered Indians and the Aboriginal Identity population. It was skewed to include over 133,000 people of this Aboriginal Identity population and none live on reserve, said Wilson.

"Even their own numbers with regard to registered Indian population showed that the majority, by their numbers, 53 per cent still lived on reserve, but because they rolled the definitions together, they skewed perception," said Wilson.

The trend and bulk came out in the wrong direction of the truth, he said.

Under reporting is the second issue. The difference comes between the 2006 Indian and Northern Affairs Indian registry and what Statistics Canada identified as registered Indian was almost a 200,000 difference, said Wilson.

"There is no other category of statistic where stats would be comfortable releasing census data where they were off by 25 per cent but for some reason they feel comfortable doing it with us," said Wilson.

There are 22 communities who refused to participate in the census as identified in the Statistics Canada report.

Some of the largest First Nations communities who did not take part include Mohawk communities, which Wilson estimates make up about 47,000 First Nation people.

"When you begin with these fundamental flaws anymore detail just exacerbates the flaw," said Wilson.

Meetings with Statistics Canada representatives and the AFN to address the concerns about the data on Aboriginal people collected lead to disappointment, said Wilson.

The history of information being abused and misused by government leads to First Nation people's fears of disclosing their information to government, he stated.

"Fundamentally it is that bad data that leads to bad policy. The government bases legislation, policy, regulation, programs and services and funding decisions on their understanding of population bases," said Wilson.

BY MARIE BURKE

Windspeaker Staff Writer
COPYRIGHT 2008 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Title Annotation:census
Author:Burke, Marie
Publication:Windspeaker
Article Type:Interview
Date:Mar 1, 2008
Words:1425
Previous Article:Impression of Native people reinforced; The Urbane Indian.
Next Article:Remembering our women.
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