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Census not on the minds of Aboriginal people.


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

The room fills up quickly with people as they share a free soup and bannock meal that is offered at the friendship centre on a weekly basis.

Sweetgrass asks a number of Aboriginal people there 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 and the company of others.

The 32 year-old is a member of the Cold Lake First Nation, who 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 identified him as an Aboriginal person. He said he doesn't believe in the numbers collected on Aboriginal people. Instead the census should be about how the government can do better after 100 years of colonization, he said.

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

The issues for him are about how much work is available now for Aboriginal people, he said.

The statistics prove there are still many jobs for social workers in the government, for doctors, lawyers, and psychiatrists to work with Aboriginal people who 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 (Aboriginal people) 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 youth are actually waiting to see what they are going to be part of, especially those in the urban areas and asking where 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.

On the bright side, having the Aboriginal population officially at over the million mark 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, to socialize and enjoy a feast.

When asked if they participated in the 2006 census on Aboriginal people, most people here 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.

Johnson has'nt really thought about the census report and doesn't remember filling out any forms for it.

"The census results are most important to the government and for some Aboriginal groups to use for funding purposes," Johnson 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 to being Aboriginal. Maybe now that Aboriginal people have assimilated a bit more and some are not as dark skinned, they find 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 the National Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), she tells Sweetgrass that the census data needs to include a culturally relevant gender based analysis.

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

On and off reserve the issues are about housing, and violence against Aboriginal women, she said.

When dealing with the system under the Indian Act a lot of people are not aware it is a system of controlling our communities, she said. It creates a cycle of poverty that leaves Aboriginal women and their children in the most vulnerable positions for violence, she stated.

As a national organization with provincial and territorial organizations across the country, NWAC represents grassroots women. It 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 Jacobs. And the cycle continues.

Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) was unavailable for comment by press time, however, according to the Special Advisor of the AFN, officials are analyzing the census data to pinpoint inaccuracies.

The AFN's preliminary analysis of the number of First Nations counted, points out fundamental problems.

Other than registered Indians, two other groups of Aboriginal people were included. A group referred to as Aboriginal ancestry contained data not reported on other than for the large total population figure. Then there was this other group called Aboriginal identity," said Daniel Wilson, AFN's special advisor.

The First Nations data is tied together with registered Indians and the Aboriginal Identity population.

Information 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 statistics where they would be comfortable releasing census data that is 25 per cent off, 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, including some of the largest First Nations communities such as the Mohawk communities in Ontario. Wilson estimates they make up approximately 47,000 First Nation people.

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


Sweetgrass Staff Writer
COPYRIGHT 2008 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Title Annotation:NATIONAL NEWS
Author:Burke, Marie
Publication:Saskatechewan Sage
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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