Monday, 12 November 2012

How Saskatchewan is failing Aboriginals

From time to time I come across people that really don't understand the seriousness of racism in our modern world. This is particularly true in Saskatchewan, where the anti-Aboriginal sentiment remains fierce. It is not uncommon to hear things like, "well, they get their education completely paid for, isn't that enough?" and "They already don't pay taxes, isn't it time they contribute to the country they live in?"

It's beliefs like those that really drive me up the wall, and are the reasons why I'm writing this post.

The advantages given to Aboriginals in Saskatchewan (and Canada) are grossly misunderstood and exaggerated. Tax exemption status exists only conditionally for Aboriginals who live on reserve (and only for work and goods received on reservation land – if a status Indian purchases a vehicle in the city, unless the car is physically brought to the reserve to be purchased, they will pay taxes on it. Likewise, if a status Indian receives a job off-reserve, even if they live on-reserve, they will pay taxes on their income just like anyone else).

Education, likewise, is not free. Each reservation receives a particular sum of money based on its population. With this money, they can choose how to distribute those funds.

Often, a small handful of youths, perhaps as few as 1 or 2, will receive money to go on and receive education (generally the most promising individuals). For all intents and purposes, you can consider this the equivalent of a scholarship.

But free education is absolutely not a guarantee just because you have status, and regardless even if that were the case, it would only apply to status Indians that lived on a reservation.

According to the 2006 census, there were 142,000 self-identifying Aboriginals in Saskatchewan. Only 48,000 of those live on a reservation. That means nearly 2/3 of all Aboriginals that live in Saskatchewan are exempt from nearly all the benefits they should be entitled to, such as education allowances and tax-free status. Also noting that this is only considering individuals that self-identify as Aboriginal, not necessarily individuals that actually have status Indian; it's likely that the true number of Aboriginals who receive these benefits is even lower.

The situation for Aboriginal people in Saskatchewan is dire. In the 2008-2009 school year, there were 168,000 students in total in Saskatchewan; 28,000 self-identify as Aboriginal. While Aboriginals make up around 16-17% of all the students in Saskatchewan (and that number is growing rapidly), only 5-6% of all teachers and school administrators are Aboriginal.

This means that, almost across the board, Aboriginal youth do not have sufficient access to Aboriginal role models in their most important, formative years. Thus, Aboriginals struggle insurmountably more than non-Aboriginals in our education system – the dropout rate for Aboriginal youth by grade 12 is around 20-25%, compared to 8.5% for non-Aboriginals.

And because education is such a significant indicator of a person's health, success and happiness late into their adult life, this becomes a serious issue. This is why so much has to be invested into dropping those numbers and getting Aboriginals to a level of parity with non-Aboriginals.

Unless you are willing to claim that Aboriginals, as a race, are fundamentally less prepared to be functional in society, then you have no choice but to accept that the immense difference in outcomes between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals comes down to institutional problems. It is not a problem of individuals, but of society not doing enough to ensure they succeed.

Anecdotes are a poor option in any kind of argument like this, but I will offer you one. I grew up under serious poverty. There were periods of my life that I ate nothing more than bread and water for weeks at a time. I lived on my own from the age of 17, the moment I graduated high school; I got a job, paid for my own education (racking up a ton of debt in the process), and have earned every last dime I've ever made, and will continue to do so.

However, I will not for one second assume my case to be representative of anything. I'm a white male. My situation in life was coincidental. I happened to be born into a rough spot, and I (mostly) overcame it.

But the issues facing Aboriginals in Saskatchewan right now are not coincidental – they're endemic of a failing system. The statistics, if nothing else, demonstrate at least that.


  1. I was on my own at 16,caught a few breaks and worked hard as hell for the rest of it. I am a white male also,but feel no need to apologize for it.Just as no Aboriginal,Black or Asian should.I believe in hard work and self accountability. I have had challenges with poverty,lack of education and addictions. I overcame these through hard work and will power. I did not however have to overcome the overt day to day systemic racism as many in our society have.Nor did I have to worry about child care, being a single parent.I never have been trapped in an abusive relationship. To those that have and succeeded ,I have great admiration. I am sure they have had to work harder,better and faster than I. Again,my admiration. To those that take advantage of the system because of laziness and a lack of will,I have contempt. The last few days I have researched poverty in general and Aboriginal poverty specifically.Our government has let those in poverty down and very specifically Aboriginals. The reasons for poverty are many and the ways out are few.

  2. I have a deep and profound respect for what you went through growing up and your ability to triumph over such circumstances.

    However, I'm not convinced that many people actually "take advantage" of the system as such. Perhaps this is true in some instances, but not the majority. I really do believe that people want to be happy, want to be successful, and want to be regarded positively by others. Very few people actually derive happiness from being on welfare.

    This forces me to look into the larger issues at play that keep people in poverty, prevent them from seeking out further education or finding fulfilling occupations. As I do not see myself any differently from any other individual on the street, I believe that the larger social problems in our society are the root causes of poverty, and not individual laziness -- again, at least in the majority of circumstances.