Canada’s Invisible Problem

UNICEF released a report this week, titled Children of the Recession, which asserts that Canada has fared relatively well in reducing child poverty, despite the ‘Great Recession’. What Canadians should be more troubled by is what the numbers don’t show.

One of the key measures relied upon by UNICEF is the low income cutoff measure. This number is based on survey data which excludes information from First Nations reserves.

Thus, while the gains cited by UNICEF are quite real, those gains omit any information regarding one of Canada’s most marginalized groups of children, First Nations children located on reserve.

To be clear, this is not a problem unique to the UNICEF report. The invisibility of First Nations on reserve has dramatic impacts across the public policy spectrum. Last week, it was revealed that temporary foreign workers are being employed on an Alberta reserve, which has a staggeringly high unemployment rate. How does this happen? First Nations unemployment statistics are not included in Employment and Social Development’s calculation of the regional unemployment rate because ESDC does not collect data on-reserve. Hence, regional unemployment rates near, or on, First Nations reserves appear to be artificially low.

Nor is the problem of invisibility limited to employment statistics. Our sisters, mothers, grandmothers and aunts remain Canada’s invisible victims. While the RCMP finally released a report last year, titled Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview, which confirmed what activists have been saying for years – that aboriginal women go missing and are murdered at alarming rates in this country. Yet, action to address Canada’s invisible victims remains elusive.

Two weeks ago, Canada even attempted to extend the invisibility of aboriginal peoples as ‘peoples’ in international negotiations. Despite the fact that the Constitution of Canada recognizes First Nations, Inuit and Metis as peoples, aboriginal peoples attempting to claim rights must demonstrate they are legitimate peoples in court and many First Nations citizens must prove their lineages in order to claim Indian status. The struggle for recognition is quite real.

The invisibility of First Nations children is a moral, economic and human rights challenge for Canada. Services for Canada’s invisible children are dramatically underfunded in comparison to those who count – that is those children who are counted. The invisibility of First Nations workers means devastation for reserve economies, and threatens a broader economy crippled by labour shortages. There is really only one place where many of these children and workers will eventually be counted – in prison and mortality statistics.

Canadians persistently hear calls for reconciliation between aboriginal peoples and Canada. We assert that there can be no reconciliation in the absence of meaningful recognition. That work cannot begin until Canada addresses the problem of invisibility of all aboriginal peoples.