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May 21, 2020 – Increased employment is crucial to improving the well-being of First Nations communities, and should be a high priority in the Prairie provinces which have the lowest employment rates and lowest per capita regional incomes across Canada, says a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute.

In “No Easy Answers: Insights into Community Well-being among First Nations,” author John Richards looks at data from Indigenous Services Canada’s Community Well-Being Index (CWB) for all First Nation and Inuit communities, and reveals Prairie trouble spots where community well-being lags.

Measuring socio-economic well-being for communities across Canada over time, the CWB has four components: education, labour force activity, income and housing. For comparative purposes, CWB scores are also calculated for non-Indigenous communities.  

From the first CWB index in 1981 to 2016, the average First Nation CWB score (range from 0-100) has risen from 45.0 to 58.4, the Inuit score from 46.1 to 61.3, and the non-Indigenous score from 64.5 to 77.5. “Despite all three scores rising, gaps between non-Indigenous and either First Nation or Inuit communities have remained nearly constant,” says Richards.

The dispersion of Inuit and First Nation scores is much larger than for non-Indigenous communities. The lowest regional CWB scores are in the Prairies, in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in particular. “In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, half of First Nation communities have employment rates and per capita income levels in the bottom quarter of all communities,” says Richards. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, average community income scores are more than 10 points lower than First Nation scores in Atlantic Canada and Ontario, and roughly 16 points lower than in Quebec and British Columbia.

Richards points to well-governed First Nation communities with access to business opportunities – for example, those with treaty rights relevant to development of resource projects – realizing employment benefits and higher CWB scores. However, such communities are the minority. Simple regressions based on CWB data highlight the important role of employment as a key determinant of community income levels.

“Affirmation of treaties and Indigenous culture over the last quarter century has been valuable,” concludes Richards. “However, there is no silver bullet to resolve the social problems in First Nation communities with low CWB scores. Addressing the problems will require recognition of First Nation treaty claims over resource-related employment, competent First Nation governance, acceptance of out-migration as part of the solution – and higher quality schools.”

Read the Full Report

For more information contact: John Richards, Roger Phillips Scholar of Social Policy, C.D. Howe Institute, and Professor, Simon Fraser University; or Nancy Schlömer, Communications Officer, C.D. Howe Institute, phone: 416-865-1904 ext. 0247, email: nschlomer@cdhowe.org.

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada's most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.