Human rights report shows aboriginal inequality

'Aboriginal people are their own industry in this country'

Sylvie Paillard / Kamloops Daily News
June 18, 2013 01:00 AM

A Canada Human Rights Commission study that showed aboriginal people suffer from inequalities is no news to one local First Nations activist.

In fact, says bestselling author Richard Wagamese, such studies are actually a symptom of the problem.

"I'd like to be cut in on the money that they give to people that write stuff that we already know," said Wagamese. "Aboriginal people are their own industry in this country.

"That needs to be recognized and changed in the long run. If there wasn't inequality there wouldn't be a need for an aboriginal industry like that because we'd be able to conduct our own studies and reports and work with our own consultants."

The impact of persistent conditions of disadvantage on the daily lives of aboriginal people was documented in the CHRC report released Monday.

Entitled Equality Rights Data Report on Aboriginal Peopleand based primarily on data collected by Statistics Canada, the report compares aboriginal and non-aboriginal people across a spectrum of indicators, including education, employment, economic well-being, health and housing.

The report shows that, compared to non-aboriginal people, aboriginal people living in Canada:

* Have lower median after-tax income.

* Are more likely to collect employment insurance and social assistance.

* Are more likely to experience physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

* Are more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

* Are more likely to be incarcerated and less likely to be granted parole.

Aboriginal people are well aware of this reality - it's non-aboriginals that may be living in the dark, said Wagamese.

"A report like this would seem to indicate that there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that Canadians are educated about the realities about their own country," he said.

Aboriginal people living off reserve are better represented in statistical surveys. On reserves the gaps are significant, states the CHRC document. In some cases data is simply not available.

Wagamese said First Nation people must work on bridging such gaps in communication and educate non-aboriginals.

"We don't need other people to talk about our inequalities," he said. "It's an education that has to start and end with us. I believe there's a shift that's possible. But first of all it has to begin with communication and if we can start to take the initiative and teach people about what those inequalities are and how they feel, people are going to understand the nature of those a whole lot better than just purely a political statement."

He was positive about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is travelling across Canada to gather stories of abuse in aboriginal residential schools perpetrated from generations ago to the recent past.

But the scope of the TRC is not wide enough, he said.

"We need to take the responsibility to our organizations and our political leaderships to make sure that our neighbours are informed about the realities that we live under."

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