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Aboriginal Youth Issues
Federal Government says it is making a difference
through the Urban Aboriginal Strategy

Urban Aboriginal Youth: An Action Plan for Change
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples

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The Honourable Thelma Chalifoux, Chair
The Honourable Janis G. Johnson, Deputy Chair

October 2003



The Honourable Senators 


Jack Austin 
Sharon Carstairs, P.C.
   (or Robichaud, P.C.)*
Thelma Chalifoux (Chair)
Maria Chaput
Ione Christensen
Aur�lien Gill
Viola L�ger
Landon Pearson
Nick G. Sibbeston


Pat Carney, P.C.
Janis G. Johnson (Deputy Chair)
John Lynch-Staunton, P.C.
   (or Kinsella)*
Terry Stratton
David Tkachuk

(*Ex officio members) 

Clerk of the Committee
Adam Thompson  

Analyst from the Research Branch, Library of Parliament
Tonina Simeone 

Note:   The Honourable Senators Catherine S. Callbeck, G�rald J. Comeau, Ethel M. Cochrane, Michael Forrestall, Elizabeth Hubley, Brenda M. Robertson, Gerry St-Germain, P.C., Charlie Watt and Lois Wilson also served on the Committee.


Extract from the Journals of the Senate, Tuesday, 29 October 2002:

    The Honourable Senator Chalifoux moved, seconded by the Honourable Senator Milne :

    That the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, pursuant to the input it has received from urban Aboriginal people and organizations, be authorized to examine and report upon issues affecting urban Aboriginal youth in Canada.  In particular, the Committee shall be authorized to examine access, provision and delivery of services; policy and jurisdictional issues; employment and education; access to economic opportunities; youth participation and empowerment; and other related matters;

    That the papers and evidence received and taken on the subject and the work accomplished by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples during the First Session of the Thirty-seventh Parliament be referred to the Committee; and

    That the Committee report to the Senate no later than 27 June 2003.

    The question being put on the motion, it was adopted.

Extract from the Journals of the Senate, Thursday, 3 June 2003:

    The Honourable Senator Chalifoux, seconded by the Honourable Senator Rompkey, P.C.

    That, notwithstanding the Order of the Senate adopted on 29 October 2002, the date for the final report by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in its study of issues affecting urban Aboriginal youth be extended from 27 June 2003, to 30 October 2003.

    After debate,

    The question being put on the motion, it was adopted.

Paul C. B�lisle
Clerk of the Senate

Extract from the Journals of the Senate, Thursday, 27 September 2001:

    The Honourable Senator Chalifoux moved, seconded by the Honourable Senator Christensen :

    THAT the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, pursuant to the input it has received from urban Aboriginal people and organizations, be authorized to examine and report upon issues affecting urban Aboriginal youth in Canada.  In particular, the Committee shall be authorized to examine access, provision and delivery of services; policy and jurisdictional issues; employment and education; access to economic opportunities; youth participation and empowerment; and other related matters;

    THAT the Committee report to the Senate no later than 28 June 2002; and

    THAT the Committee be authorized, notwithstanding customary practice, to table its report to the Clerk of the Senate if the Senate is not sitting, and that a report so tabled be deemed to have been tabled in the Senate.

    The question being put on the motion, it was adopted.

Extract from the Journals of the Senate, Tuesday, 11 June 2002:

    The Honourable Senator Chalifoux moved, seconded by the Honourable Senator Milne :

    That notwithstanding the Order of the Senate adopted on 27 September 2001, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, which was authorized to examine issues affecting urban Aboriginal youth, be empowered to present its final report no later than 19 December 2002.

    The question being put on the motion, it was adopted.

 Paul C. B�lisle
Clerk of the Senate







1.1 Support for Community-based Urban Aboriginal Initiatives
   1.2 Involve Youth in Decision-making Processes
    1.3 Foster Community and Youth Capacity Building
    1.4 Funding Certainty and Flexibility
    1.5 Coordinated and Holistic Approach
    1.6 Aboriginal Service Delivery
    1.7 Culturally Appropriate Programming and Status Blind Service Delivery
    1.8 Suggestions for Mainstream Service Providers
    1.9 Conclusion: Key Principles for Effective Service Delivery




1.1 Urban Aboriginal Youth Centres
    1.2 Urban Transition Programs
    1.3 Sport, Art and Recreation
    1.4 Education: Addressing Drop-out Rates
    1.5 Health and Sexuality: Aboriginal Youth Teen Pregnancy
    1.6 Exiting Gang Life: The Need for a Safe Place to Go
    1.7 Substance and Alcohol Abuse: The Need for Aboriginal Youth Treatment Centres
    1.8 Employment and Training: Long-term Strategies Required







For the past eighteen months the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples has been examining issues affecting urban Aboriginal youth in Canada with a view to developing an �Action Plan for Change.�  The Committee held 44 meetings.  Most of these meetings were public sessions during which the Committee heard from over 128 witnesses.  In addition, in March 2003 the Committee travelled to Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver during which the Committee heard from several Aboriginal organizations and service providers and conducted a series of Aboriginal youth roundtables.

Canada has not adequately met the needs of Aboriginal( [1])  youth living in urban areas.  The Committee�s report, however, is not intended to be yet another study on Aboriginal people.  The recommendations contained in this report map out short and long term strategies that address the aspirations of youth, laying out the foundations upon which their potential can be nurtured, supported and realized.  To be successful in achieving these goals, the Committee believes that solutions need to be proactive and preventative, rather than coming into action only when a problem or need becomes acute.

The Committee feels that its recommendations meet the objectives the Committee set for itself at the outset of its work:

The Committee�s report makes 19 recommendations.  Together, these recommendations form the basis of the Committee�s Action Plan for Change; grouped into the following four areas:

Recommendations on restructuring the current jurisdictional and policy framework that currently limits federal government responsibility (and the majority of programs and services) strictly to First Nations people living on reserve.  Recommendations, particularly in the area of post-secondary education and M�tis rights, break with past policy by moving beyond status-based restrictions and in recognizing that current Aboriginal geographic identities must be reflected in federal policy initiatives.

Recommendations to enhance the ways in which urban Aboriginal programming is conceived, designed and delivered.  Key principles for service delivery reform are detailed.

Recommendations that strengthen the federal role in providing leadership on urban Aboriginal issues and facilitating intergovernmental mechanisms to address policy and program concerns of urban Aboriginal people and youth.

Recommendations to provide a weave of positive supports for Aboriginal youth living in, or coming to, cities.  These measures move away from the current �crisis intervention model� and instead seek to create real opportunities for Aboriginal youth in order that they can contribute meaningfully to their communities and broader society as well.


   1.1  Short and Medium Term Actionable Items 

        Remove status-based restrictions to make post-secondary student support available to all Aboriginal youth, including the M�tis and non-Status Indians.

        Establish a national �clearing house� of Aboriginal youth programs and best practices.  This must be available to service providers, community organizations and governments.

        Establish Urban Aboriginal Youth Centres in urban centres with a significant Aboriginal youth population.

        Provide culturally appropriate urban transition programming for Aboriginal youth who move to urban centres, linking services, wherever possible, to communities of origin.

        Create a national Urban Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation Fund.

        Develop a national strategy with specific measures to address high school dropout rates among Aboriginal youth, including measures targeting parent awareness.

        Implement a public awareness campaign for youth and pre-teens to address sexual health and practices, pregnancy and parenting.

        Dedicate resources to community-based youth programs which promote sound parenting skills.

        Ensure culturally appropriate Safe Houses are established in high-risk cities for youth who wish to exit gang life.

        Remove status-based restrictions so that the federal government�s National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program can be accessed by all Aboriginal youth, irrespective of status.

        Establish culturally appropriate Aboriginal youth substance abuse treatment centres in urban areas with a significant Aboriginal youth population.

        Ensure employment and training programs provide long-term strategic training for Aboriginal youth in accredited programs.

        Dedicate additional financial resources to the urban and youth component of the Aboriginal Human Resources Development Strategy.

        Encourage partnerships between the private sector and Aboriginal youth.

        Extend and expand the Urban Multipurpose Aboriginal Youth Centres (UMAYC) Initiative.

   1.2  Medium and Long Term Actionable Items 

        Recognize the portability of First Nations rights and develop guidelines to ensure equitable access to programs and services for residents living off reserve.

        The federal government must enter into formal negotiations to clarify and resolve outstanding jurisdiction and rights issues concerning the M�tis people of Canada.

        The federal government must exercise a leadership role in coordinating multi-lateral program and policy initiatives for urban Aboriginal people.         The federal government, through the Urban Aboriginal Strategy, must develop formal intergovernmental mechanisms to address broad policy and program concerns.         The federal government collaborate with urban Aboriginal youth, through its Urban Aboriginal Strategy, to develop policy and program initiatives for urban Aboriginal youth. The Committee believes that a genuine window of opportunity exists to implement the kind of positive change needed to ensure another generation of Aboriginal youth is not sacrificed on the altar of narrow policy thinking.  The Committee has worked out a realistic plan of action, and detailed concrete steps, which, if implemented in a serious and dedicated fashion by the federal government, can lead to meaningful reform and long lasting solutions.  In addition, due to the jurisdictional issues relating to Aboriginal people who reside off reserve and in urban areas, the Committee recognizes that several of the measures outlined will require close collaboration among various levels of governments and must include the substantive participation of Aboriginal groups to be successful.  In that spirit of cooperation, the Committee anticipates the thoughtful response of those who wish to continue working to achieve the aspirations of urban Aboriginal youth.





The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, in collaboration with First Nations:

        Develop procedures and guidelines recognizing the portability of rights of First Nations people.

        Guidelines and procedures must include estimates for the necessary financial resources required to provide equitable access to programs and services to resident and non-resident members.


        The federal government must ensure the eligibility criteria for the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) be broadened to include all Aboriginal groups irrespective of status.

        The budget for the PSSSP must be enhanced to correspond to the increased levels of applicants that will result from the removal of status-based restrictions.

        Funding for the PSSSP must be appropriately indexed to correspond to rising tuition fees and the growth in the Aboriginal youth population.


        The federal government must conduct a thorough review of programs available to Aboriginal youth, identifying gaps and duplication in programming.

        The federal government establish and appropriately fund a national date base to act as a clearing house� to collect, share, monitor and disseminate information on successful youth programs, initiatives, best practices and youth role models.

        Governments, service providers, community organizations and youth should have access to the �clearing house.�

        Based on the information collected, annual reports should be prepared to assist governments and service providers develop and support more effectively Aboriginal youth programming in urban areas.


The federal government should ensure the following principles are applied to programs that they fund for the delivery of services to urban Aboriginal youth:

        Involve to the greatest extent possible urban Aboriginal youth or their appropriate representative organizations in the identification of needs, priority setting, program design and service delivery.

        To the greatest extent possible, programs be developed locally with a high degree of Aboriginal involvement and ownership.

        Funding be guaranteed for sufficient time as to allow the program to achieve its objectives.

        There be flexible funding arrangements to minimize the administrative burden on participating Aboriginal organizations.

        To the greatest extent possible, and where appropriate, funding be provided directly to urban Aboriginal service providers in order to lessen administrative costs;

        Resources should be dedicated to Aboriginal youth capacity and leadership building.

        Explore the potential for pooling program funding with any complementary federal programs, other levels of government or appropriate organizations.

        Include evaluation processes that incorporate community feedback.

        Identify the extent to which programs overlap or duplicate services provided by other levels of government and action proposed to address this, if required.

        Where programs are delivered by mainstream agencies with a significant Aboriginal client base, strive to employ appropriately trained Aboriginal staff and provide non-Aboriginal staff with cross-cultural training.

        Provide sustained funding for pilot projects that have demonstrated success and integrate these initiatives into departmental practice.


By virtue of its fundamental, constitutional and fiduciary relationship with Canada�s Aboriginal Peoples:

        The federal government should take a leadership role in coordinating multi-lateral program and policy initiatives for urban Aboriginal people.

        The federal government, through the Urban Aboriginal Strategy, should act to facilitate the development of formal intergovernmental mechanisms to address the broad policy concerns of urban Aboriginal people in Canada and break down existing silos in program development and service delivery.

        Intergovernmental mechanisms must include and engage appropriate urban Aboriginal organizations.


By virtue of the success of the Urban Aboriginal Multipurpose Aboriginal Youth Centre (UMAYC) Initiative and its importance to urban Aboriginal youth, the federal government, through the Minister of Canadian Heritage, should:

        Continue its support for the UMAYC Initiative by committing sustained, long-term funding for the initiative.

        Funding allocations for the UMAYC Initiative should be increased so that urban Aboriginal communities and youth are better able to build upon its successes.



The federal government, in collaboration with its provincial counterparts and appropriate urban Aboriginal youth representatives and agencies, should provide capital funding for the establishment of Urban Aboriginal Youth Centres in urban communities where there is a significant Aboriginal youth population.  Centres should be located in areas where they can be readily accessed by youth.


The federal government, in collaboration with appropriate Aboriginal organizations, should establish community-based, culturally appropriate urban Aboriginal youth transition programs.  Efforts should be made to link Aboriginal youth transition services to reserve and rural communities.


The federal government, through the Minister of State for Fitness and Amateur Sport, should establish and fund an Urban Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation Initiative.  The Initiative should promote sport and recreation programs that are:

        Community-based, delivered and designed.

        Sustainable and long-term rather than of limited duration.

        Designed to build the capacity Aboriginal youth through instruction in recreation programming, leadership development and life skill training.



The federal government, in cooperation with provincial, territorial governments and Aboriginal organizations, develop a strategy to reduce the Aboriginal youth truancy rate in schools.

Such strategies should include those targeting:

        Aboriginal parents and highlighting to them the benefits of their children�s regular and ongoing attendance at school.

        Elders, and other community leaders, in the planning and implementation of such strategies on behalf of Aboriginal youth.

        Specific measures to address high drop out rates during critical transition periods.

        Specific measures to promote Aboriginal culture and history in mainstream educational institutions.


        The federal government, through the Minister of Health, must act to ensure that off-reserve and urban Aboriginal organizations benefit equally from the federal government�s FAS/FAE Initiative.

        Federal funding allocated for the FAS/FAE Initiative must be increased rather than redirected from reserve communities in order to meet the needs of urban Aboriginal communities.


The federal government, through the Minister of Health, and in collaboration with appropriate Aboriginal organizations and youth representatives should:

        Design and implement a public awareness campaign for Aboriginal youth and pre-teens to address youth sexual health, encourage healthy sexual practices, and the prevention of teen pregnancies.

        Support community-based education initiatives for youth and pre‑teens on sex, sexuality, pregnancy and parenting.

        Dedicate sustained resources for community-based youth programs that promote parenting skills.


The federal government, in collaboration with provincial and municipal governments, and in consultation with Aboriginal organizations, support the establishment of Safe Houses to assist urban Aboriginal youth exit gang life.  Initiatives should be targeted to �high-risk� cities.


        The federal government should act to extend its National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program to include all Aboriginal youth, irrespective of status, residing in urban areas.

        Funding should be allocated for the establishment of urban Aboriginal youth treatment centres where there is a significant Aboriginal population and be located in areas where they can be readily accessed by youth.

        Treatment centres and services for youth should be age and culturally appropriate.


        Federal programs aimed at increasing labour market participation of Aboriginal youth be should be designed to provide long-term, strategic training in accredited programs for youth.

        Funding allocated to the youth and urban component of the Aboriginal Human Resources Development Strategy should be increased.

        The federal government, in collaboration with all principal stakeholders, facilitate forums and initiatives to encourage partnerships between urban Aboriginal youth and the private sector.


        The federal government, under its Urban Aboriginal Strategy, develop and fund specific initiatives for young Aboriginal people on the basis that they are one of the most �at risk� groups.

        These initiatives must be designed and developed in collaboration with urban Aboriginal youth.


The agencies and departments of the federal government involved in coordinating and implementing the recommended actions contained in this report prepare an annual review of their actions and progress in this regard and table it before this Committee.

Searching for Visions II *


These kids they�re gonna be okay
When they�re ready, they gonna take us places we never dreamed of
Man, the universe is coming at them
A million miles an hour
Incredible dreams they must have
The worlds they have travelled already
These young travellers they�ll be okay
And when they�re ready
The stories they�ll tell us
The worlds they�ll take us
I can hardly wait

Duncan Mercredi � 1995  



Imagine how you would feel to be set adrift alone
in a kayak in the Arctic Ocean �

Mr. Franco Sheatiapik Buscemi,
National Inuit Youth Council, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

For many young Aboriginal people, cities have been their only home.  Some are second and third generation urban dwellers.  Despite systemic barriers and personal challenges which they may face, many manage urban life successfully.  For other Aboriginal youth, city life can be an overwhelming experience.  Their foothold is uncertain; their future uncertain.  While cities may seem to offer great promise, countless arrive ill-prepared to take advantage of these opportunities, and promise eventually falls to despair.  Unfortunately, this is a familiar scenario faced by many young Aboriginal people who come to cities seeking to improve their lives:

It is like looking through stained glass; the promise of moving to a city is so rich � there is employment; there are opportunities.  It is a huge difference.  I come from a town of 7,000 people.  The prospect of a better or a different life in the cities is one that is very promising.  However, when you get to the city you find out that even to be a waiter you need experience.  Even to be the low man on the totem pole, so to speak, you still need the experience and the relevant training.  The people and the youth I have met have come to the city in search of that promise.  It is not there.  Many of them become stuck in the city over a period of time.  They follow their bad habits in the city.( [2])

Far too often the lives of these young people become just another negative statistic.  We must resist the temptation to read these figures idly and search ourselves for a deeper understanding of the real suffering and pain that exists behind those numbers.  These youth may well be our doctors, poets, artists, leaders, and educators, and unless we come together to address the structural inadequacies that underpin those grim statistics, they will be lost to their communities and to us forever.  Minus their potential, we are diminished.  Moral imperative, our own self-interest, and simple compassion compel us to ensure that another generation of Aboriginal youth will not be prevented from realizing their promise.

When we first began our examination into issues affecting urban Aboriginal youth, we could not have imagined the unshakeable resilience displayed by many of these young people in the face of so many daunting challenges.  We were impressed by their strength, their quiet determination, their honesty in talking so frankly about their lives, and their sincere desire to overcome their circumstances, however difficult it may seem at times.

A report released by the National Association of Friendship Centres and the Law Commission of Canada argued that the aimlessness of Aboriginal youth, so often manifested in street crime and youth gangs, is more a failure of Canadian society to provide alternative structures than a reflection of the youth themselves.( [3])  Add to this the fact that the social distress many urban Aboriginal youth experience is a complex interplay of a number of factors.  As one witness told the Committee, the lives of Aboriginal youth �are profoundly influenced by both historical injustices and current inequities.  Issues facing youth are rooted in a history of colonization, dislocation from their traditional territories, communities and cultural traditions, and the inter-generational impacts of the residential school system.�( [4])

Recent demographic studies have shown that Aboriginal women, children and youth in cities face particular challenges and are among the most vulnerable.  This suggests that program and policy measures aimed at improving the condition of urban Aboriginal people should consider those segments in greatest need.  Special consideration should be placed on developing policies and coordinating efforts that respond to the circumstances of Aboriginal women, youth and children in cities.  We believe that the federal government must assume a lead role in facilitating, planning and coordinating these efforts.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to ignore the myriad of challenges, needs and issues facing the urban Aboriginal population.  Not only do Aboriginal people constitute a significant percentage of urban populations, especially in the western provinces, but on the whole they have higher rates of joblessness, less formal education, more contact with the justice system, and are in poorer health than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.

The urban Aboriginal landscape is extremely complex.  The continued significance of reserve and rural life to urban Aboriginal residents is evidenced by a pattern of frequent circulation from reserves to urban areas, rather than permanent settlement.  Further, the implications of a growing and youthful urban Aboriginal population � both socially and economically marginalized � is also a matter of significant public policy concern.  As noted by Peters and Graham, �positive futures for urban areas are intricately tied to positive futures for Aboriginal people.�( [5])

Reframing the Current Dialogue

I am convinced that by focusing on a problem, one cannot always solve the problem.  One needs to have a sense of what people are trying to achieve and how one wants to move forward.

Professor David Newhouse,
Trent University

Past literature identifies the issue of Aboriginal urbanization primarily as a social problem.  Historically, Aboriginal migration to Canadian cities was viewed with considerable apprehension and many clung to the belief that �an Indian�s place is on the reserve.�( [6])  Contemporary reality does not bear this out.  Cities are places of deep diversity and home to the majority of Aboriginal peoples.  Many Aboriginal youth are dynamic, contributing members of urban life.  Moreover, in cities across Canada, the achievements of Aboriginal peoples are challenging these archaic beliefs and breaking negative stereotypes, such as those often portrayed in the media.

There is, as many witnesses told us, a need to start a new conversation:  a conversation about achievement, success and vision for the future.  Failure to do so, as one witness explained, perpetuates the false view many Aboriginal youth hold of themselves as inferior and inadequate:

We do not talk in terms of excellence, achievement and success.  When we tell students to survive, they do.( [7])

Finally, one young Aboriginal woman talked to us about the serious harm that can be inflicted when forced into a reduced mode of being:

I grew up amongst a bunch of lies.  Once I learned the truth, it opened up a whole bunch of doors for me.  Young people deserve to know this so that we will stop being ashamed of being native.( [8])

The projection of an inferior self-image has perhaps been one of the most powerful weapons of the colonizer in its �conquest� of the New World.  The human costs of this assault on the personal dignity of other human beings we reckon to be inestimable.  It has carried enormous social costs and continues to do so today.


The Committee�s Approach

Members of this Committee were moved by the testimony of Aboriginal youth, many of whom have had their lives adversely compromised by negative portrayals of themselves in mainstream institutions.  The transformative potential of positive images can only reinforce a new reality for Aboriginal youth, and open up for them a world in which they are no longer forced to occupy marginal positions.  Rather than stereotyping Aboriginal youth (particularly when in groups) involved in anti-social or self-harming behaviour, we wish to move beyond the near exclusive focus on problems and begin to explore a more constructive approach, one emphasizing the contribution Aboriginal youth now make, and can continue to make, to Canada�s future.


Report Outline

The Committee�s report seeks to address some of the complex jurisdictional, social, economic, and program inequities that keep so many of this country�s Aboriginal youth from realizing a brighter future.


Other Relevant Inquiries

The breadth of our terms of reference did not allow the Committee to examine all the issues as fully as it wished in the time available.  However, many of the issues have been examined in other inquiries and their findings are relevant here.

Other inquiries include:

Too numerous to mention individually, the Committee has benefited greatly by the significant research work undertaken by Aboriginal organizations and agencies across the country.


Defining �Urban and �Youth�

There has been some discussion about the most appropriate definition of �urban� in the context of the Committee�s terms of reference.  Countries differ in the way they classify population as �urban� or �rural.�  Typically, in Canada, a community or settlement with a population of 1,000 or more is considered urban.  For the purposes of this report, we have opted to use the formal Statistics Canada�s definition for census metropolitan areas which reads as follows:  a census metropolitan area (CMA) is a geographic area delineated around an urban core with at least 100, 000 population.

There are 27 CMAs in Canada.  The Committee, however, has focused largely on the following 11 urban centres:  Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Ottawa-Gatineau, Montreal, and Halifax.  Reasons for this selection is so we may account for east/west regional differences as well as the large concentrations of Aboriginal youth in Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon and Thunder Bay.  Given the magnitude of this undertaking we were unable, in this report, to give as close attention as we might have wished to smaller urban areas � such as Prince Rupert (B.C.) or Prince Albert (SK) � that also have significant Aboriginal youth populations.

Statistics Canada defines youth as those between the ages of 15 to 24 years.  Aboriginal organizations have their own categories for defining youth:  The National Association of Friendship Centres, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the M�tis National Council all define �youth�� as being between the ages of 15 to 24.  The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami employs a broader range.  They define �youth� as those between 13 to 29 years.  Finally, the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women�s Association of Canada and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation all define youth as age 18 to 24.

Government programs and services for youth tend to rely upon the Statistics Canada demographic model.  In some instances, this can compromise the ability of youth to access much-needed services because they fall outside the federally recognized age category.  The application of narrow definitions has created gaps in programming, particularly for those youth between 13-15 years of age, and suggests the need for policy-makers to apply broader definitions.

Text Box: Who Are Urban Aboriginal Youth?

When talking about urban Aboriginal youth specifically four primary categories can be identified.  Each of these categories of urban Aboriginal youth has their own unique needs in successfully adapting to, and living in, cities.

�	Aboriginal youth born into an urban environment;

�	Aboriginal youth who temporarily live in an urban environment for educational, occupational, judicial or health reasons, and who are adjusting to an urban setting;

�	Aboriginal youth introduced and/or re-introduced to an urban environment after relocating from their home community (some for the first time, others after a period of time back in their home community; and

�	Youth re-entering an urban environment after a period of incarceration, rehabilitation or having lived �off the land� for an extended period.



The Committee hopes that its report will contribute to the promotion of a positive dialogue.  It is our strong belief that we must structurally address the ability of Aboriginal youth to make a positive contribution to Canadian society, rather than continue with the perceived notion that they are �problems to be fixed.�( [9])  Witnesses appearing before the Committee were asked to identify possible solutions, successful interventions and best practices that would help youth overcome at least some of the challenges they face on a daily basis.  We have been fortunate to benefit, to a very great degree, from their wisdom and wealth of experience.  On that note, we turn to our examination into issues affecting Aboriginal youth in urban areas.



The received wisdom in mainstream Canadian thought appears to be that an average Aboriginal person lives on reserve and away from major urban centres.  This image is reinforced by dominant images in Canadian media and popular culture that tend to concentrate on the traditional lifestyles and treaty-rights of Aboriginal peoples, in large part because these issues have serious political and socio-economic implications for non-Aboriginal Canadians.  Inasmuch as it may enter the consciousness of most Canadians, the assumption is that Aboriginal peoples, apart from having their populations concentrated on reserves � and acknowledging an income gap � share the same basic characteristics as other Canadians.  This perception is incorrect.  The marginalization of urban Aboriginal peoples in general, and Aboriginal youth in particular, discussed in this report, reinforces their incomplete and almost invisible profile in the Canadian portrait.  We are encouraged, however, by the increasing prominence given to urban Aboriginal youth issues, particularly in the western provinces, where the population is statistically significant.

Text Box: The marginalization of urban Aboriginal peoples and Aboriginal youth reinforces their incomplete and almost invisible profile in the Canadian portrait.


This section is intended to bridge the gap between demographic assumptions and demographic realities.  This gap is significant for urban Aboriginal youth because, as the Committee recognizes elsewhere in this report, federal programs are intimately linked to on-reserve status.  It is also significant because policy makers need to be aware of the much higher proportion of Aboriginal youth within Aboriginal communities than exists in the general Canadian population.  Put simply, there are many more urban Aboriginal peoples than most Canadians, and many policymakers, realize; and the majority of them are children or young adults.  


The General Picture

In the 2001 Census of Canada, almost one million people � 976,305 � identified themselves as Aboriginal.([10])  This identification represents a 22% jump from the 1996 Census figures.  It is 3.3% of Canada�s total population, well ahead of the United States (1.5%) or Australia (2.2%).  About 62% of Canada�s Aboriginal peoples are North American Indian, 30% M�tis, 5% Inuit, the remaining 3% identifying with more than one group or as band members not identifying as Aboriginal.


Aboriginal Group


% of Total
Aboriginal Populations

North American Indian


















*      Numbers reflect those who identified themselves as Aboriginal peoples on 2001 Census questionnaire.

+     Those who gave multiple identities in answer.


Where Do Aboriginal Peoples Live?

Provincially, Ontario, with the largest total provincial populations, has the highest absolute number of Aboriginal peoples, but the highest concentrations of Aboriginal peoples live in the north and in the prairie provinces:  Nunavut � 85% of the population; Northwest Territories � 51%; Yukon � 23%; Manitoba � 14%; Saskatchewan � 14%; Alberta � 5%.  This northern and western concentration does fit the generally understood picture of Aboriginal demographics.

But the real story lies in other numbers.  Aboriginal peoples are attracted to the opportunities offered by a predominately urban Canada.  One half � 49% � of self-identified Aboriginal peoples lived in urban centres, slightly more than the 47% who lived on a reserve.  One quarter of Aboriginal peoples live in just ten Canadian cities (in order):  Winnipeg; Edmonton; Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto; Saskatoon; Regina; Ottawa-Gatineau; Montreal and Victoria.

Geographic Distribution of the Aboriginal Identity Population
by Place Residence, Canada, 1996

The 56,000 Aboriginal people in Winnipeg are 8% of the city�s total population.  Saskatoon�s 20,000 is 9% of that cities population.  By comparison, Toronto�s and Montreal�s Aboriginal populations of 20,000 and 11,000 respectively, disappear in these cities� much larger urban backdrop:  they comprise 0.4% of Toronto�s population and 0.3% of Montreal�s.

But these should not be considered statistics counts.  Aboriginal peoples are more mobile than the general Canadian population.  One in five aboriginal people moved in the 12 months before the Census was taken, compared to one in seven for the general Canadian population.  Almost 100,000 Aboriginal people, 10% of the entire Aboriginal population moved to or from an urban centre in the year previous to the 2001 Census.  This high mobility heightens the already significant barriers to program and service delivery presented by this report:  challenges in reaching, maintaining contact, and delivering, consistent health care, housing, social services, training and education.

Nor should the dynamics of urban demographics be treated as a single agglomeration.  In Winnipeg for example, the Institute of Urban Studies estimates that the urban Aboriginal population is growing by 2000 people a year.( [11])

But net migration statistics hide a greater and more relevant story.  Two out of every three Aboriginal migrants move between off reserve locations.  Urban-to-urban migrants are almost five times more numerous than migrants leaving reserves.  It is this combination of movement to and from, and within, urban areas that leads to a highly mobile segment of the Aboriginal population and a high residential mobility rate referred to as the �churn.�( [12]) The urban Aboriginal population, therefore, is in a high state of flux, much higher than those for non-Aboriginal urban peoples, for Aboriginal peoples on reserve or for rural Aboriginal peoples.  This can hide from policymakers what is really going on.  The mobility of urban Aboriginal peoples appears to perpetuate an impression that there is mass exodus from reserves for registered Indians.  In fact, what is happening is high residential mobility within urban areas forms a significant part of the overall migration statistics.  Furthermore, there are significant differences within the �churn.�  Demographic and socio-economic characteristics tend to differ among non-movers, residential movers and migrants, with consequent different needs and services for each of these groups.  For example, Aboriginal migrants, who represent about 20% of the urban Aboriginal population of Canada�s larger cities (the majority comprising flows from city to city), tend to be younger, have younger families and fewer children, with lone parents more common. Another issue to consider is geographic variation that may create different population sub-groups in different cities.  For example, registered Indians who move from more remote reserves to the large urban areas may face greater challenges:  there may be a significant gap between their cultural and educational experience and urban realities.  By comparison, those moving from reserves closer to, or even within, large urban areas may have less difficulty adapting to urban life.  Implications of this kind of Aboriginal mobility are:  cultural isolation, family instability and dissolution; a high proportion of female lone-parent families; economic marginalization and low incomes; high victimization and crime rates.  Churn also creates much greater difficulties in the provision of vital programs and services for urban Aboriginal people. As well as social isolation, it must be recognized that cultural isolation and economic marginalization reinforces increased mobility, raising the bar not only for the provision of services, but for the absolute need for these services to break the cycle.  This suggests that in part, Aboriginal peoples are moving because their needs are not addressed and that vital programs and services are not present or are not being effectively delivered. But, apart from the broad outline presented above, there is as yet very little hard evidence beyond the anecdotal on this churn effect.  Witnesses from Statistics Canada informed the Committee that they have as yet no way to discern whether an urban Aboriginal person was a first-time urban resident, a second-generation or greater urban resident, or what the full mobility patterns or history of the person might be.  Much more work needs to be done in order to effectively uncover how best to serve this community.


Who Are Aboriginal Peoples?

Nor is the Aboriginal population static or linear in the dynamics of growth.  The Aboriginal population of Canada is growing faster, and is much younger, than the general Canadian population.  With a median age of 23.5, half the Aboriginal population are young adults, youth or children.  The median age in Manitoba is 20.4 years; in Saskatchewan, the median Aboriginal person is a teenager of 18-and-a-half years of age.  The median Canadian is half a generation older; and at almost 38 years of age, approaching middle age.  In Saskatchewan, the discrepancy is the greatest, the non-Aboriginal population is aging, and at 38.8 years of age, over 20 years older than the median age of a Saskatchewan Aboriginal person.

In popular culture terms, the median Aboriginal person is Generation-X or Generation Next, the median Canadian is a baby-boomer.  This could imply another, and altogether different, cultural barrier layered into the existing cultural divides that exist for those who need to access programs and services.

More than a third of Aboriginal youth were under 14 as of 2001.  Another 17% were teenagers or young adults.  Within a very few years, they will be in the labour market.  Of these young people, urban Aboriginal youth are more likely to live in lone parent families than their on‑reserve counterparts.  Approximately one third of on-reserve children live in lone parent families as opposed to half of urban Aboriginal youth, with the percentages in the large Prairie centres reaching as high as 50%.  Only 17% of non-Aboriginal children live in lone-parent families.

And of the Aboriginal peoples, the M�tis are the most likely to be urban residents and move frequently.  Almost 70% of all M�tis live in Canada�s urban areas:  one third of all M�tis live in just five cities:  Winnipeg; Edmonton; Vancouver; Calgary; Saskatoon.  For young M�tis, if they live in a city, their chances of living in a lone-parent family are double that of their rural counterparts.  Their chances of remaining in one place are much less than other Aboriginal peoples:  one-fifth of all M�tis moved in the year previous of the 2001 Census.


Socio-Economic Characteristics

Aboriginal peoples, like all Canadians, move to urban areas because that is where lies the greatest concentrations of wealth, of economic, social and cultural activity, and ultimately, opportunity.  Yet these significantly younger, significantly more mobile urban Aboriginal peoples face great challenges in living in Canada�s cities.  Their reality differs from mainstream Canada�s. According to testimony from Statistics Canada,( [13]) unemployment is much greater for the Aboriginal population that the non-Aboriginal population.  Levels of unemployment are much greater for the statistically salient component of Aboriginal youth than for non-Aboriginal youth:  there are proportionally far more Aboriginal youth and they have fewer jobs.  In the big cities, 68% of non-Aboriginal youth have jobs, compared to 45% for Aboriginal youth.  55% of urban Aboriginal youth in Canada�s largest cities, and 42% of Aboriginal youth in Canada�s other towns and cities, live below the low-income cut-off.

A recent study conducted by the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD) on urban poverty in Canada found that in 1995, Aboriginal people living in cities were more than twice as likely to live in poverty as non-Aboriginal people.  According to the study, whose tabulations were based on statistics from the 1996 census, an average 55.6% of Aboriginal people in cities were living in poverty, compared to 24% of non-Aboriginal people.( [14])  Stated another way, while Aboriginal persons accounted for an average of 1.5 per cent of the total population, they represented 3.4 per cent of the poor population in all cities in 1995.  Other than non-permanent residents, the Aboriginal population had the highest incidence of poverty.

The CCSD study also indicates marked regional disparities in the poverty rate among the urban Aboriginal population, with the incidence of poverty being greatest in western urban centres.  Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Regina posted significantly high rates of Aboriginal poverty.  In Regina, Aboriginal people accounted for 24.3 per cent of the poor population, more than three times their proportion of the total population.  In Winnipeg and Saskatoon, Aboriginal people represented 17.6 and 22.5 per cent of the poor in those cities, respectively.

Typically, then, cities with a sizeable portion of Aboriginal people were those with the highest incidence of Aboriginal poverty.  Moreover, in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Regina and Saskatoon, census tract data revealed that the Aboriginal population was much more concentrated in a few areas, predominantly inner-city neighbourhoods, than in Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau or Montreal.  It has been suggested that the residential clustering of Aboriginal people in core areas of these cities can lead to relatively high and negative �concentration effects.�

However, it should be recognized that not every urban Aboriginal youth faces the worst:  there are areas of hope.  Urban Aboriginals have a higher level of education than those on-reserve.  Some urban centres � notably Thunder Bay, Montreal, Victoria, Toronto and Regina � manage to retain Aboriginal youth in school at rates nearing 80%, which is close to the 83% average attained by non-Aboriginal youth.  But as for other socio-demographic factors, it is the large prairie cities of Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg which, statistically, seem to present the greatest challenge to young Aboriginal people.

Comprehensive health statistics concerning the urban Aboriginal youth population are not readily available.  However, it is known that Aboriginal youth have higher incidences of preventable diseases and disabilities, mortality rates, and suicide rates than that of other Canadian youth.  In August 2002, Statistics Canada released its first-ever study looking into the health of the off-reserve Aboriginal population.  Not surprisingly, the author of the report, Mr. Michael Tjepkema, found that Aboriginal peoples residing in cities and towns are generally in poorer health than the non-Aboriginal population.  The study found that inequalities in health persisted between Aboriginal people who lived off-reserve and other Canadians after socio-economic and health behaviour factors were taken into account.  This suggests that both socio-economic and health behaviour factors did not fully explain the disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in reporting fair or poor health.

Some key findings include:



The data indicates that the past policy neglect of urban Aboriginal issues is no longer tenable.  In general, Aboriginal people fare considerably worse on nearly every social and economic indicator.  These demographic indicators suggest that the well-being of Aboriginal people in cities has a direct impact on the well-being of the cities themselves, most especially in western Canada, where a substantial number of Aboriginal people reside.  The Committee recognizes that the statistics presented to it are aggregates of a diversity of individual and local community circumstances.  On the whole, however, urban Aboriginal people continue to occupy severely disadvantaged positions in Canadian society.  This collective marginalization, if left unaddressed, can result in emerging inner-city ghettos and risk undermining community solidarity.  This �dark underside� of city life for many Aboriginal people, as one commentator notes, represents �not only a tragedy for those who live it, but threatens the social fabric and the civility of the cities where Aboriginal populations are relatively or absolutely large.�([15])

Text Box: Governments need to adjust programming to meet urban realities.  Program adjustment requires two elements:  a fuller statistical description of the social landscape, which in turn must be predicated on a clarification of the murky jurisdictional waters in which programming is currently made.

There is, accordingly, a need for governments to adjust programming to meet urban realities.  But program adjustment requires two elements:  a fuller statistical description of the social landscape, which in turn must be predicated on a clarification of the murky jurisdictional waters in which programming is currently made.



The Current Ambiguity

One of the most significant factors contributing to both the challenging circumstances facing many urban Aboriginal people, and the sub-optimal policy and programming environment, is disagreement between the federal and provincial governments over the question of responsibility for urban Aboriginal policy.

Calvin Hanselmann,
Senior Policy Analyst, Canada West Foundation

Aboriginal people who reside off reserve and in urban areas, irrespective of status, can be said to be the poor man of the Canadian constitution.  The answer to the question of who is constitutionally responsible for handling Aboriginal issues depends on where Aboriginal peoples live, or what their status might be.  It is the basis of an ongoing debate between federal, provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments.  This current jurisdictional ambiguity has serious implications concerning federal responsibility for:  (i) First Nations people residing off reserve as well as Inuit not living in traditional territories, and; (ii) M�tis and non-Status Indians.

Text Box: Canada�s policies fall short of meeting its constitutional obligations, and this is demonstrated by the narrow policy or legislative focus that now exists for First Nations citizens.  It is obvious that there is a need for fundamental institutional change overall.

Grand Chief Dennis White Bird,
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs

Federal responsibility for members of First Nations communities residing off reserve is unclear.  To date, federal programs have been institutionalized and structured to deliver services through reserves.  In 1983, the Report of the House of Commons Special Committee on Indian Self-Government (Penner Report) noted, with great concern, that despite the fact that the federal government has jurisdiction over �Indians and lands reserved for Indians� by virtue of section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, �federal laws and policies have consistently been designed to deny this constitutional responsibility insofar as Indians living off-reserve are concerned.�( [16])  The Special Committee concluded that �Indians� living off reserve should have rights to special federal programs and that the �continuing responsibilities� of the federal government in this respect must be recognized.  The Committee wishes to underline the fact that these status distinctions have been imposed upon Aboriginal peoples by Canadian governments.  They are status or non-status, treaty Indians, Bill C-31( [17]) registrants, residing either on or off reserve, and the list goes on.

Twenty years after the release of the Penner Report, issues of jurisdiction and status remain largely unresolved:

Unfortunately, Canada�s policies fall short of meeting its constitutional obligations, and this is demonstrated by the narrow policy or legislative focus that now exists for First Nations citizens. It is obvious that there is a need for fundamental institutional change overall.( [18]) [Emphasis added]

Federal responsibility for M�tis and non-Status Indians remains, too, a matter of ongoing controversy.  Although section 35 of Constitution Act, 1982, defines Aboriginal peoples as the �Indian, Inuit and M�tis peoples of Canada,� the federal government�s current policy is that it�s responsibility, with a few exceptions, extends only to Indian people resident on reserve, while provincial governments have a general responsibility for Aboriginal people living off‑reserve.( [19])  Aboriginal peoples argue that the federal government has a responsibility to all Aboriginal people, not only status Indians and the Inuit.  To date, however, neither the federal nor the provincial governments have accepted any special responsibility for the M�tis and non‑status Indian population.( [20])

Aboriginal people living away from reserves, including status Indians, non-status Indians and the M�tis are the clear majority of the Aboriginal population.  They are, however, those least served by federal programming.  Such an outstanding, foundational, issue contributes, in no small way, to the poor economic and social conditions experienced by so many Aboriginal people in this country.  In the words of one witness:

When I talk about dealing with Aboriginal youth, whether they are on-reserve or off-reserve in urban communities, we need to address the broader issues.  I return to the federal government meeting its fiduciary obligations to Aboriginal people regardless of where we live.  We talk about jurisdiction.  There is a big gap [in services] when Aboriginal people leave their communities.( [21])

The Committee, having listened to Aboriginal groups and individuals who have appeared before us, believes that the federal role with respect to Aboriginal people living off reserve and in urban areas deserves further examination and subsequent resolution.  A review of federal policy on this issue is past due, even were we to disregard the fact that 7 out of 10 Aboriginal people now live off reserve.  Changing settlement patterns, coupled with impoverished social conditions, require policy-makers to meaningfully address the current �geographies of policies, rights and administration.�( [22])


Federal/Provincial Roles and Responsibilities

The failure of federal and provincial governments to accept, clarify and coordinate their jurisdictional roles and responsibilities has resulted in what the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called a �policy vacuum,� with the needs of urban and off-reserve Aboriginal people as the first casualty in this jurisdictional �no man�s land.�

The federal government exercises its responsibility for First Nations people through the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND).  The Department has primary, though not exclusive, responsibility for meeting the federal government�s constitutional, legal, treaty and political responsibilities to First Nations, Inuit and Northerners.  It does not, however, acknowledge a legal or constitutional responsibility for non‑Status, M�tis, or First Nations people residing off-reserve.  The result is that these groups do not benefit from the $6 billion annual budget of DIAND, which includes health, education, housing, economic development, cultural and social programm ing:

The federal government has restricted its provision of services to Indians living on reserves and to Inuit and Indians living in northern communities.  With the exception of some education and health benefits, federal services are not available once Indian people leave the reserve or Inuit and Indians leave their northern communities.  M�tis and all others who are not Indians as defined by the Indian Act receive few services under federal legislation.( [23])

As a result of this restriction, Aboriginal people living off reserve must look to provincial and municipal governments for the provision of public services.  The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples found, however, that provincial administration had its limitations.  While Aboriginal people living in urban environments could, in theory, access provincial programs of general application, many faced serious challenges accessing those services and would have preferred culturally appropriate programm ing.

Traditionally, most provinces have maintained that, in general, the federal government has primary jurisdiction over, and, more importantly, financial responsibility for, all of Canada�s Aboriginal peoples � including off-reserve registered and non-registered Indians and M�tis.


Emerging Trends

Some provincial governments have recently taken an increasingly active role to improve their relations with Aboriginal communities.  Saskatchewan is a case in point.  Its Metis and off-Reserve First Nations Strategy is a strategic and comprehensive approach in addressing the needs of the urban Aboriginal population, and by extension, the social and economic well-being of the broader community:

Our future in Saskatchewan depends on our ability to ensure that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people no longer live in cultures that are isolated from one another � It is fundamentally important for the social health of our communities, and beyond, in Saskatchewan that we find healthy ways for that integration, that intersection of two cultures, two societies, and in many cases two races, to be positive and constructive rather than negative and dysfunctional.( [24])

The evidence of a shift in provincial thinking goes beyond the Saskatchewan example.  To varying degrees, it can be seen in the emergence of provincial policy frameworks and introduction of Aboriginal-specific programming in several provinces across the country.( [25])  For instance, in 1999 the Alberta government released its Aboriginal policy framework:  � Strengthening Relationships � and in its 2001 Speech from the Throne, the provincial government of British Columbia committed itself to redoubling its efforts to address urban Aboriginal issues.

Despite its historic reluctance to provide programs and services for urban and off reserve Aboriginal residents, the federal government has also begun to acknowledge the necessity of increasing its activity in this area.  There are approximately 80 federally targeted programs for off-reserve and urban Aboriginal residents in a range of policy fields, including health, homelessness, training, employment, education, justice, childcare, youth and cultural support.( [26])  A list of federal programs for urban Aboriginal people is appended to this report.  Other notable steps taken by the federal government include:

Notwithstanding their respective jurisdictional positions, federal and provincial governments are clearly involved in urban Aboriginal program and policy development.  Efforts, however, are ad hoc and disjointed, with resources inefficiently used and programs duplicated.  As discussed later in the report, much of this program activity is developed in isolation from one another.  The result is an uncoordinated, labyrinthine programming landscape.


The Portability of Rights

The courts are increasingly challenging the current federal policy framework, which specifically attaches rights to residency on reserve.  Notably, in its 1999 Corbiere decision,( [29]) the Supreme Court of Canada extended the right of band members living off reserve to vote in band elections, in those instances where elections are held under the provisions of the Indian Act.  The Supreme Court ruled that you could not discriminate against band members based on where they live and found that discrimination based on residency violated section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Corbiere may well have profound implications for the broader rights of non‑resident members.  A logical extension of the rationale provided for in Corbiere could be that it is discriminatory to deny access to programs and services to non-resident members, as it is discriminatory to deny them voting rights.  The Assembly of First Nation�s own analysis of the 1999 Corbiere decision points to its potential impact on the availability of programs and services for members living off-reserve:

Corbiere has raised the issue of whether or not non-resident members have the right to programs and services.  Under Corbiere, the right to vote might also mean the right to programs and services.( [30])

The office of the Federal Interlocutor for the M�tis and Non-Status Indians commented:

One is the Corbiere case, in which the right of off-reserve people to vote in band elections was upheld.  That, in my own view, is going to change the face of Indian politics significantly.( [31])

The current disparity in the range of available programs and services to off reserve residents is a source of great frustration and represents a longstanding grievance.  In his appearance before the Committee, then National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Matthew Coon-Come, told the Committee that �members who have chosen to live in those [urban] areas should be provided, without penalty, the same services and programs that they would have elsewhere.�( [32])  Other witnesses also emphasized that the issue of mobility rights is a matter of priority that must be dealt with by the federal government:

If they live off-reserve, then perhaps they do not have the same level of access as the person who lives on reserve next door to the Chief.  A reserve is like a little village, where everybody knows everybody and everybody is related � There are hardships for the people who move away.  The portability of rights is a real problem.( [33])

Unfortunately, First Nations under the Indian Act do not receive funding for programs and services for off-reserve members, although we are politically accountable to off-reserve members.  Decisions made by the Supreme Court of Canada, Corbiere, Delgamuukw and Musqueam helped to clarify and reaffirm responsibilities a band has to their off-reserve membership.  These decisions also support the position that First Nations have about the portability of treaty and inherent rights of their people and that of First Nation governments.( [34])

Corbiere, and other recent court cases( [35]) are beginning to lend strong support to the argument made by First Nation governments for some time that Aboriginal and Treaty rights are not confined to the boundaries of the reserve.  In other words, rights are portable and the authority of First Nation governments extends beyond reserve boundaries.  Witnesses, however, informed the Committee that federal policy is presently designed in such a way that when a First Nation member leaves the reserve boundary, their identity and rights must also be left behind.

In their appearance before this Committee, officials from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development informed us that the Department was planning a fundamental policy review of its policy in this regard.  We were told:

We have started a fundamental policy reform, so fundamental that in fact I have had to assign a whole team exclusively to that.  One of the issues that the team is addressing is that of eligibility.  Right now � it is based on residency.  We are, however, wondering whether that really is a good idea.  Does that truly reflect the true identity of the person?  The person is just as Aboriginal on the reserve as off.  Perhaps we should attach eligibility to the person rather than residency, and that is one of the policy options for reform that we are considering.( [36])

The increasing urbanization of Aboriginal people is amplifying these pressures towards the need for a new direction in policy development.( [37])  Current Aboriginal demography and the emerging jurisprudence in the area of off-reserve rights, suggest that the Department�s mandate no longer fully corresponds to the geographic identities of Aboriginal peoples.  It is clear to us that the Department�s current mandate, in which its primary responsibility is to First Nations living on reserve and the Inuit, can no longer truly provide an adequate legislative basis upon which to address the needs of the vast majority of Aboriginal people; two-thirds of whom today live off reserve.  Consider, for instance, that of the nearly $8 billion dollars the government will spend in the 2002-2003 fiscal year, only $270 million flows to urban and off-reserve programming.  The Committee is therefore of the opinion that the portability of rights of First Nations must be dealt with as a matter of priority.

Text Box: Witnesses informed the Committee that federal policy is presently designed in such a way that when a First Nation member leaves the reserve boundary, their identity and rights must also be left behind.

Accordingly, we recommend that:

Recommended Action

The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, in collaboration with First Nations:

The Committee expects that all actions taken by the Department with regard to this recommendation will be in full partnership with First Nations.

The recognition and implementation of mobility rights will have numerous implications for First Nation communities, not least of which is their financial capacity to provide services to non-resident members.  These are concomitant questions that require careful consideration:  how should rights be balanced so that the interests of resident and non-resident members are respected?  What is the role and responsibilities of First Nation governments for their citizens, on and off reserve?  What is the federal government�s role and responsibility to off reserve members?  Furthermore, the portability of rights issue touches upon the very foundations of citizenship for First Nation governments.  Accordingly, First Nations must be given sufficient time to develop their own policies and procedures with regard to the rights and interests of all its members as well as a strong voice in designing policies that so materially affect their governments and citizens.

Further, this Committee feels strongly that the federal government must take formal steps to clarify and resolve the rights of the M�tis people of Canada.  Although constitutionally recognized as one of three Aboriginal groups in Canada, the M�tis do not enjoy the same rights as First Nations people and the Inuit.  The scope of M�tis rights to hunt and fish as well as the broader legal implications of their inclusion in the constitution requires resolution.  Moreover, the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in the case of R. v. Powley( [38]) will have important implications for policy-makers and force outstanding M�tis issues more vigorously onto the public policy agenda.


Accordingly, this Committee further recommends that:

Recommended Action

The federal government must enter into formal negotiations with the appropriate M�tis organizations to clarify and resolve outstanding jurisdictional and rights issues of the M�tis people of Canada.


Getting Beyond Jurisdiction:  The Issue of Post-Secondary Education

We will speak to the core issues that affect youth:  education, education, education

Mr. Robert Adams,
Executive Director, Native Canadian Centre of Toronto

Post-secondary education support for Aboriginal students is another challenge facing urban Aboriginal people, largely as the result of jurisdictional disagreements.  This is an area in which Aboriginal youth fall through the jurisdictional cracks of program delivery.  While governments argue over their respective responsibilities, another generation of youth is denied access to those opportunities essential to creating a better life.  These jurisdictional problems only aggravate the burdens of the misdirected policies of the past.

Text Box: Urban Aboriginal people, for the most part, have been left behind in terms of benefiting from Canada�s economic prosperity, and sadly, they have been neglected too often by governments that argue on the semantics of responsibility.

Privy Council Office, Urban Aboriginal Strategy:  An Analysis

Supporting the education of all Aboriginal youth is necessary to create long-lasting solutions for this disadvantaged segment of the population.  In a technological, globalized world which prizes knowledge workers, we can ill-afford to make primary, secondary, or higher education a casualty of narrow policy thinking.  It is a matter of entitlement and basic common sense not to fail this generation of Aboriginal youth.  Yet, in higher education, this is what we are doing.


Recasting the Current Approach to Post-Secondary Education

A post-secondary education is essential to improving the economic and social outcomes of Aboriginal youth and reducing the disparity that continues to exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.  According to data compiled by Statistics Canada and presented before the Committee, the gap in employment levels between Aboriginal and non‑Aboriginal youth narrows significantly if we focus on youth with a university degree.([39])  For instance, in 1996, Aboriginal youth without a high school leaving certificate reported an unemployment rate of 40%.  In contrast, unemployment rates were only half as high for those with secondary (23%) or college (20%) completion.  Young Aboriginal people with a university degree recorded the lowest rate, at 9%.([40])  Thus, an increasingly important mitigating factor offsetting poor employment outcomes for Aboriginal youth is education.  The 2001 census data confirms this reality.

Source: The Canada West Foundation, 2003.

The positive correlation between education and employment is not a surprisingly new idea.  What is novel, however, is how pronounced this link is for Aboriginal youth.  Young Aboriginal people with higher educational levels can expect to markedly increase their likelihood of employment and to raise their expected income level.  Professor Eric Howe, University of Saskatchewan, whose research concluded that Aboriginal people have the highest average dollar rate of return on their investment in education, underscored this point.  Moreover, Professor Howe�s research shows that at the very top educational levels, Aboriginal people earn approximately equal amounts as their non-Aboriginal counter-parts.

Higher education is also critical to ensuring meaningful employment in an increasingly competitive knowledge-based economy.  The days when a high school education was sufficient for obtaining gainful, long-term employment are behind us.  The labour market has changed dramatically in the last decade due, in large measure, to technological changes and the processes of globalization.  Post-industrial economies place a high premium on knowledge and skills, and never before has the link between education and employment become so vital.  Studies, such as the Alberta National Round Table on Learning, suggest that by 2004, one in four jobs will require a university degree.  In his testimony, Mr. John Kim Bell observed:

We are witnessing the dying days in which secondary education is the bare minimum for employment.  New jobs that will be created in the future will require diplomas or degrees that come with new skills and as a result, improved education is not only essential to finding a job, it will be necessary to keeping one.�([41])

Despite some assuring gains, however, Aboriginal youth continue to lag behind the rest of the Canadian population, at a time when jobs require more and more educat ion.

The recent 2001 census figures indicate that the education gap is narrowing, but it is still wide among university graduates.  While the proportion of Aboriginal people without a high school diploma decreased from 45% in 1996 to 39% in 2001, the proportion of Aboriginal people with post-secondary training continues to lag behind the rest of the country.  Compared to 38% of Aboriginal youth with post-secondary education (up from 33% in 1996), 53.4% of non-Aboriginal people had post-secondary credentials.  When we unravel these percentages we begin to appreciate their full impact.  In Saskatchewan, for example, 460 Aboriginal youth who were out of school held a university degree in 2001, compared to 9,445 non-Aboriginal youth.([42])

Text Box: This younger age structure represents a future opportunity for cities, especially in western cities.  As the non-Aboriginal population enters retirement, forecasts suggest skilled labour shortages.  The younger urban Aboriginal population could help alleviate these shortages as it comes of labour force age.  Such an opportunity, however, will be lost if young Aboriginal people in Canada�s cities are unable to fully participate in the labour force.

Calvin Hanselmann, 
Canada West Foundation

The gulf is staggering, and for many urban centres, unsustainable.  Cities are vital nodes of the global economy and their continued prosperity is threatened by the anticipated shortfall of skilled workers.  The impending labour shortage is a serious concern for business, labour and governments.  Aboriginal youth, a growing segment of urban populations, are an important resource to help meet labour needs.  Witnesses told us that young Aboriginal people hold out great promise in being able to bridge the impending gap in Canada�s shrinking labour force.

For business and community leaders, educated and motivated Aboriginal youth could form a dynamic and key component of tomorrow�s labour force.  Unless we begin to address the structural barriers, this cannot happen.


Reform of the Post-secondary Student Support Program

Canada�s failure rests, in large part, with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development�s unique interpretation of its mandate.  The Department�s Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) does not make residency on reserve a requirement for eligibility.  Yet, eligibility is restricted to Status Indians and the Inuit, effectively excluding the M�tis and non-Status Indians from benefiting equally from the program.  Several witnesses voiced their frustration with this restriction, based, as it were, on arbitrary status distinctions:

The post-secondary education funding available for Status Indians, although not limited to the reserves, is a fundamental issue for us.  We need to take another look at how we can assist more young Aboriginal people with their education.( [43])

Because we are non-Status Indians, we are not eligible for assistance from the Department of Indian Affairs � and have to depend upon provincial programs of general application.( [44])

The Committee was told repeatedly that the current federal policy applies a narrow jurisdictional approach that no longer mirrors current demographic and political realities.  A broader approach to these issues is necessary if we genuinely wish to move the agenda forward in the area of education.

Higher education, as was recently observed, is the heart and soul of the Aboriginal community�s rise from desperation to middle class.( [45])  And laying down the honest foundations for the development of a vibrant middle class requires governments to think and act proactively.

The issue, as several witnesses pointed out, is that current federal programming tends to be mainly reactive.  As one witness observed:

I believe that envisioning and building the future in the way that we imagine it should be, to be proactive rather than reactive is more beneficial.( [46])

Aboriginal youth told us they feel governments see them as problems to be fixed rather than as a resource to be nurtured.

We have to get proactive with young people.  We have to stop looking at youth like they are defects, like they are problems that need to be fixed.( [47])

Reform and dedicated support for post-secondary education is vital to creating that kind of deep structural change.  Notwithstanding the Department�s position with respect to its mandate, the status-based restriction on eligibility for post-secondary education assistance must be reconsidered.  The urgent need to lift Aboriginal youth out of their circumstances in a permanent and meaningful way, we believe, makes this policy increasingly difficult to justify.

Higher education is a means by which Aboriginal people can begin to reverse the trend of their historic social and economic exclusion from influential centres of decision-making.  Their notable absence in senior levels of industry and government effectively leaves them without a voice in areas of great influence.

The danger of under-representation of Aboriginal peoples in these quantitative occupations is a great concern to us all as a society.  We are missing out on an opportunity to influence decisions that have dramatic social consequences.( [48])

The link between education and employment is a critical one, so is the relationship between unemployment and social despair.  The lack of access to meaningful employment places these youth at risk for a number of social problems.  Facing extreme economic marginality, many may doubt that they are able to achieve approved societal goals, thereby making criminal activity, for some, the primary route to gaining material wealth.  Involvement in various illegal enterprises can provide short-term financial and social gain.  Youth risk becoming embedded in this lifestyle, making it difficult to leave.  Poor education, few employment skills, and sparse job experience provide little basis for these youth to pursue legitimate career paths.( [49])

Text Box: The lack of access to meaningful employment in the regular economy places these youth at risk for a number of social problems.

If the challenges they face are ignored, it can, and will, have negative consequences for both Aboriginal communities and Canadian society as a whole.  There is a pressing need for governments to invest resources in youth initiatives aimed at improving educational outcomes, so that Aboriginal youth acquire the training and skills needed to obtain meaningful employment.  The Labour Market Profile suggests that access to the Canadian labour market is particularly precarious for this segment of the youth population.  Aboriginal youth warrant particular attention as they tend to be among the least educated of all youth and that they most likely would benefit from investing further in education.( [50])

The federal government has acknowledged the importance of improving the educational outcomes for Aboriginal children and youth.  In its efforts to address the gap in life chances between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children and youth, the Government of Canada, in its Speech from the Throne (2002), signalled that First Nation education was to be a priority:

The government will take additional measures to address the gap in life chances between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children � The most enduring contribution Canada can make to First Nations is to raise the standard of education on-reserve.  The government will work with the recently created National Working Group on Education to improve educational outcomes for First Nations children, and take immediate steps to help First Nations children with special learning needs.( [51])

The Committee applauds that commitment, but continues to believe that the educational outcomes for all Aboriginal children and youth should be a priority for the Government of Canada, and that commitment should not be limited solely to First Nation education, but must also address the educational needs of the M�tis and non-Status Indians.

The Committee is well aware that there is no �silver bullet�, no easy solution to the many challenges confronting Aboriginal youth.  We are also keenly aware that there are limits to what can be achieved through a strategy that focuses on encouraging post-secondary participation, but fails to consider the broader social and educational environment.  However, where structural barriers do exist, policy-makers must, in the best interests of Aboriginal youth, act to remove them.

Ensuring meaningful access to higher education for Aboriginal youth is an investment we make not only in their future, but our own as well.  It is difficult to comprehend how we can deny any Aboriginal youth desirous of continuing their education a chance to do just that:  a chance to lift themselves up, and out of, appalling social conditions.

As a society, we can question our responsibility for the misguided policies of the past, but should we not be morally and socially responsible to restore to Aboriginal youth today that which should never have been taken from those of yesterday:  their hope for the future and a chance to take their rightful place in it?  A university education, in itself, may not suffice in undoing the numerous social ills that plague so many innocent youth, but it is an important stepping-stone to restoring their well-being and confidence.  A well-educated Aboriginal youth will be less vulnerable to a range of social and economic factors that erode their ability to be full, productive members of Canadian society, as well as to be able to contribute to the capacity of their own communities and institutions.  To believe we owe them any less is unconscionable.

The Committee is further concerned that while funding for post-secondary education has increased slightly it has not kept pace with the rapid growth in the Aboriginal population or the rising costs of tuition.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada( [52])

Post-Secondary Education Expenditures
































Accordingly, the Committee recommends that:

Recommended Action

([1])     Unless otherwise specified, the term Aboriginal is used throughout the report to denote the Inuit, M�tis and First Nations (status and non-status) peoples of Canada.

*        Searching for Vision II written by Duncan Mercredi, Pemmican Publications, Winnipeg.

Reprinted with permission.

([2])     Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Proceedings, Second Session:  Thirty-Seventh Parliament, 5 February 2003, Mr. Roy McMahon, Youth Coordinator, Native Canadian Centre of Toronto.

([3])     National Association of Friendship Centres and Law Commission of Canada, Urban Aboriginal Governance:  Re-Fashioning the Dialogue, 1999, p. 65.

([4])     Urban Native Youth Association, Submission, p. 4.

([5])     Katharine Graham and Evelyn Peters, Aboriginal Communities and Urban Sustainability, Canadian Policy Research Networks, December 2002, p. 1.

([6])     In its 1960 submission to the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on Indian Affairs, the government of Saskatchewan warned that �the day is not distant when the burgeoning Indian population, now largely confined to reservations, will explode into white communities and present a serious problem indeed.�  Evidence of this apprehension and, at times hostility, to the presence of Aboriginal people in cities, was noted by a number of other writers.

([7])     Proceedings, 10 December 2002, David Newhouse, Associate Professor and Chair, Native Studies, Trent University.

([8])     Proceeding (Vancouver Youth Round Table), 18 March 2003, Ms. Ginger Gosnell, Urban Native Youth Association.

([9])     Proceedings, 11 February 2003, John Kim Bell, Founder and President, National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.

([10])    Aboriginal Peoples of Canada:  A Demographic Profile. Statistics Canada, January 2003. p. 6.  All statistics are based on the 2001 Census unless otherwise stated. Statistics Canada also noted that due to a higher incomplete enumeration rate there is a probable, significant undercoverage of the Aboriginal population in comparison to the general population, as well as causing the discrepancies between enumeration and the Census count of persons registered under the Indian Act and the numbers produced by the Indian register maintained by DIAND.

([11])    �Landmark Study Highlights Issues Facing Aboriginals Who Move To Winnipeg,� Canadian Press, 1 May 2003 (Newswire).

([12])    This discussion and statistics on the churn effect and on mobility rates is taken from Mary Jane Norris, Aboriginal Mobility and Migration within Urban Canada:  Outcomes, Factors and Implications.  Research Analysis Directorate, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.  Presented to the Aboriginal Policy Research Conference, 26-28 November 2002. Data is based on the 1996 Census and reflects migration patterns for 1991-1996.

([13])    All statistics in the section, unless otherwise cited, are from Statistics Canada testimony to the Committee, 4 December 2001. Socio-economic data presented the Committee was from the 1996 Census:  detailed analysis of the 2001 Census data in this area had yet to be released.

([14])    Canadian Council on Social Development, Urban Poverty in Canada:  A Statistical Profile, 2000, p. 38.

([15])    Cairns, p. 32. Two Roads to the Future. Policy options.

([16])    House of Commons, Special Committee on Indian Self Government, 1983, p. 67.

([17])    In 1985, Bill C-31 amended the Indian Act to comply with equality guarantees of the Charter by eliminating long-standing gender discrimination in registration provisions and restoring entitlement to Indian status under the amended Indian Act.  There are, however, several outstanding concerns relating to Bill C-31.  Notably, it was anticipated that the Bill would remove the category of �non‑Status Indians� so that all First Nations members would be recognized as Indians under the Indian Act.  The implication was that many off-reserve First Nations people would acquire Indian status and be accorded the rights and benefits enjoyed by Status Indians.  For many this has not happened.  It is beyond the scope of this report to conduct a detailed examination of
Bill C-31provisions.  However, we emphasize that outstanding C-31 issues continue to affect many off-reserve Aboriginal women and their children, and that these issues must be dealt with by the federal government on an urgent basis.

([18])    Proceedings, 17 March 2003, Grand Chief Dennis White Bird.

([19])    A 1939 Supreme Court decision (Re Eskimos) brought the Inuit within the meaning of �Indians� under subsection 91(24); recognizing a special federal role in relation to the Inuit. As with on-reserve registered Indians, the federal government provides a number of programs and services to Inuit communities.

([20])    The status of the M�tis and the non-registered Indian population under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867 remains undetermined. As mentioned, the federal government maintains that it does not have exclusive responsibility for these groups, and that its financial responsibilities for these groups are thereby limited.

([21])    Proceedings, 1 April 2003, Anne Lesage, Executive Director, Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre.

([22])    Evelyn Peters, Developing Federal Policy for First Nations People in Urban Areas:  1945-1975, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies XXI, 1(2001):  57-96.

([23])    Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Aboriginal Peoples in Urban Centres, Report of the National Round Table on Aboriginal Urban Issues, 1993, p. 5.

([24])    Proceedings, 25 February 2003, Brent Cotter, Q.C., Deputy Minister, Government Relations and Aboriginal Affairs, Government of Saskatchewan.

([25])    In its January 2002 report entitled Enhanced Urban Aboriginal Programming in Western Canada, the Canada West Foundation found that a number of provincial governments have implemented a range of enhanced programs for urban Aboriginal people in their major cities. The report is available on-line at http://www.cwf.ca/.

([26])    Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Proceeding, First Session:  Thirty-Seventh Parliament, 27 November 2001, Fred Caron, Assistant Deputy Minister, Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat, Privy Council Office.

([27])    In its 2002 Speech from The Throne the government committed itself to working with �interested provinces to expand on existing pilot programs to meet the needs of Aboriginal people living in cities.�

([28])    The full interim report is available on the Prime Minister�s Caucus Task Force on Urban Issues Web site:  http://www.liberal.parl.gc.ca/.

([29])    Corbiere v. Canada, [1994] 1 C.N.L.R. 71 (F.C.T.D.).

([30])    Assembly of First Nations, The Corbiere Decision:  What it means for First Nations, p. 16.

([31])    Proceedings, 27 November 2001, Mr. Fred Caron.

([32])    Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Proceedings, First Session:  Thirty-Seventh Parliament, 11 June 2002, Matthew Coon Come, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations.

([33])    Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Proceedings, First Session:  Thirty-Seventh Parliament, 6 March 2002, Barbara Caverhill, Acting Director, Employment and Human Development, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

([34])    Proceedings, 17 March 2003, Grand Chief White Bird.

([35])    In the Federal Court of Canada�s 2002 decision, Misquadis v. Canada, the applicants, off reserve Aboriginal labour market organizations, wanted Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) to ensure its benefits are provided to all Aboriginal people equally. The central issue was whether the HRDC violated section 15 of the Charter by not focusing its Aboriginal Human Resource Development Agreements (AHRDA�s) on reserve-based communities. Justice Lemieux found that the manner in which HRDC applied its AHRDA agreements was, in fact, discriminatory, and directed the Department to undo its exclusion.

([36])    Proceedings, 6 March 2002, Chantal Bernier, Assistant Deputy Minister, Socio-Economic Policy and Programs Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

([37])    The profound demographic shift in the population and geographies of Aboriginal people has a profound implication for the federal role toward First Nations members. It has meant that over time the federal government has seen it responsibility extend to less and less people.

([38])    R. v. Powley, 2003 SCC 43.

([39])    Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Proceedings, First Session:  Thirty-Seventh Parliament, 4 December 2001, Doug Norris, Director General, Census and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada.

([40])    Heather Tait, Educational Achievements of Young Aboriginal Adults, Canadian Social Trends, Spring 1999, p. 8. Statistics Canada � Catalogue No. 11-008.

([41])    National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, Taking Pulse, publication submitted to the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, p. 8.

([42])    Globe and Mail, Alanna Mitchell, The New Canada:  Changing Native History, 17 June 2003.

([43])    Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Proceedings, First Session:  Thirty-Seventh Parliament, 16 April 2002, Dwight A. Dorey, National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

([44])    Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Proceedings, Second Session:  Thirty-Seventh Parliament, 2 April 2003, Chief Betty Anne Lavall�e, C.D., New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council.

([45])    Ibid., Alanna Mitchell.

([46])    Proceedings, 11 February 2003, Mr. John Kim Bell.

([47])    Proceedings, 18 March 2003, Vancouver Aboriginal Youth Round Table, Ms. Melanie Mark, Urban Native Youth Association.

([48])    Proceedings, 17 March 2003, Gisele Campbell, Employment Equity Advisor, Manitoba Hydro.

([49])    The situation of Aboriginal youth in Canada illustrates this point. Faced with economic and social marginalization, the rate of criminal activity is much higher than for the non-Aboriginal population. Moreover, the rise in Aboriginal youth gangs, particularly in western cities such as Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, can also provide a sense of identity and community to what, in essence, is a disenfranchised part of Canadian society.

([50])    Human Resources Development Canada, Profile of Canadian Youth in the Labour Market, 2000, p. 20.

([51])    Government of Canada, The Canada We Want, Speech from the Throne, 37th Parliament,
Second Session.

([52])    Source:  The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.


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