Action to reduce poverty on reserves

More than half of B.C.'s on-reserve First Nation children live in poverty.

According to a recent study released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), about 52 per cent of B.C.’s on-reserve First Nation children live in poverty.

The poverty rate for First Nation children living on reserve is highest in Manitoba (76 per cent) and Saskatchewan (69 per cent) and lowest in Quebec (37 per cent).

According to CCPA, poverty rates for children living on reserve had never been examined before.

“There has historically been a frustrating lack of data when it comes to Indigenous poverty in Canada,” says Daniel Wilson, co-author of the report. “It is our hope that measuring and reporting on these shameful levels of child poverty can help bring an end to policymaking in a void of information.”

The study calls for immediate action on a poverty reduction plan for reserves that would include reporting poverty rates, improving direct income support and improving employment prospects.

“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,” says Wilson. “The growth of Indigenous child poverty cannot be allowed to deprive another generation of opportunity.”

Trish Garner with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition said the study revealed “shocking statistics,” adding that shining a light on the issue of poverty on reserves is the first step to address it.

“The first step to make a difference is to report the poverty rates on reserve so that we know the issue, so that we can then tackle it,” she said. “Otherwise, it remains an invisible issue as this data is not included in the general poverty rates released every year.”

According to Garner, the issue of poverty on reserves is the result of colonization and racism.

Edward Hill, a spokesperson wit the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, said that although the poverty rate is “way too high and disproportionate,” there is progress and hope in many communities for a brighter future.

Aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister John Rustad said one of the emerging ways the province can bring about greater prosperity in First Nations communities is through development of the liquified natural gas (LNG) sector.

He added that treaties can also provide significant economic benefits for First Nations and surrounding communities, including improved employment opportunities and incomes.

“That is why we are trying to improve the treaty-making process so that more nations can pursue long-term treaties,” he said.

In addition, Rustad said that affecting positive change for Aboriginal people living on reserves requires strong federal partnership as that is where the ultimate jurisdiction lies.