Indigenous labour is an untapped resource

Canadians opened their hearts and homes to Syrian refugees last year. It was a warm humanitarian gesture as well as an economic imperative: Canada relies on immigrants to sustain our work force.

    image: Government of Canada

Treatment of our Indigenous people is puzzling in both regards. Refugees from Indian Reserves do not receive a warm welcome. Communities don’t sponsor Indigenous families and put them up in homes. They are not being bombed but they are fleeing abominable conditions: mouldy housing, undrinkable water, poor education, appalling health care and little hope for employment. Instead of being helped, First Nations refugees often end up on city streets with few options for integration into society.

Not only are Indigenous Canadians uninvited in cities but the labour resource they represent is wasted.

The Centre for the Study of Living Standards released a report earlier this month entitled “The Contribution of Aboriginal People to Future Labour Force Growth in Canada.” The 36 page report outlines the wasted labour resource of Indigenous Canadians.

Indigenous citizens are the youngest, fastest growing demographic in Canada.

To start with, all Indigenous people are underemployed. More critically, participation of the 15-24 age group is 12 per cent lower than average. Only one-half of Indigenous youth are employed. That untapped resource could contribute to future labour force growth. It’s worse in the North where participation in the labour force is one-fifth the average.

If Canada’s Indigenous work force were developed, they would contribute to one-fifth of the future national labour growth. That contribution could be in the North, where they are most needed. As the global climate change warms and the climate of the North warms disproportionately, opportunities will open for jobs in resource extraction, infrastructure, housing and tourism. The expansion of the Indigenous work force In the North could comprise 83 per cent of total northern growth.

What would it take? The report states rather dryly:

“Indigenous people also face deficiencies in hours worked, employment, income by level of education and health among others. Progress must be based on Indigenous autonomy and this in turn will require strengthening administrative and managerial capacities, most likely under new institutional arrangements.”

In more vital words, it will take a reversal of our colonial past which was designed to dominate and assimilate Indigenous peoples. The Trudeau government made a good start when it divided the Indigenous portfolio in two with Jane Philpott becoming minister of Indigenous services and Carolyn Bennett becoming minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and Northern Affairs.

Some criticise the move as increased bureaucracy but the split was recommended in 1996 by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Both ministers are capable I can only hope they will succeed in ending the anachronistic Indian Act.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations is optimistic:

“First Nations are working to move beyond the Indian Act and re-asserting our jurisdiction and sovereignty over our own lands, title and rights.”

Let’s bring our Indigenous brothers and sisters in from the cold. And if compassion doesn’t motivate Canadians, maybe a bleak economic future without them will.

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Continental divide with U.S. widens

We used to think we were becoming more like our American cousins. In 2002 58 per cent of Canadians thought we were; now it’s only 27 per cent.

    “Weirdo” image: CBC

There’s more to the shift than the election of President Trump. We are maturing and are more confident. And it has to do with the realization that we are fundamentally different.

Those differences are revealed in response to a relatively simple statement: “The father of the family must be master in his own house.”

Because values are clustered together, response to that statement reveals other values says pollster Michael Adams: “Patriarchy is only one of more than 50 values we track, but it is clearly among the most meaningful. It is also a value that is highly correlated with other values such as religiosity, parochialism and xenophobia, and views on issues such as abortion, guns and the death penalty.”

American response to the statement cycles up and down. When asked in 1992, 42 per cent agreed. Support for patriarchy went up during the Bush presidencies and back down to 1992 levels during the Obama years. The election of President Trump has restored patriarchy to record highs.

Canadian response has been relatively constant for decades -in the low twenties.

It’s a versatile analysis. It also reveals the degree that immigrants adopt Canadian values. Thirty-five per cent of Canadian immigrants agreed with statement; not surprising when most immigrants come from male-dominated countries. In the U.S., substantially more immigrants agree with patriarchy at 56 per cent, even though they are from the same countries as in Canada.

I’m impressed with the way that Adams has of cutting through the clutter of public opinion. I wrote about his research in 2004 in my column for the Kamloops Daily News . Back then he was examining the connection between patriarchy and religiosity. “Canadians have more confidence in their ability to make moral decisions without deferring to religious authority,” said Adams.  As a percentage, twice as many Americans go to church weekly as Canadians, twice as many believe the Bible is literally true, and twice as many say religion is important to them.

In the same column, I argued that the continental divide is marked by something other than just the U.S./Canada border. Progressives on both sides of the border share the same “country.” I find that when I talk to people in the U.S. states of the Pacific Rim, they sound remarkably Canadian. Adams recent research confirms that progressive/populist divide in the U.S. Support for patriarchy is less strong in the coastal states than the Deep South.

Swings in U.S. support for patriarchy reveal a national insecurity. Psychoanalyst Robert Young has studied the psychology of populist movements. “When people feel under threat,” says Young, “they simplify; in a reduced state people cannot bear uncertainty.”

This siege mentality that currently grips the U.S. under Trump indicates just how insecure some Americans feel. Before 9/11, fundamentalist saw modernity and pop culture as a threat to core values. After September 11, the threat became global with the loss of jobs overseas.

The reasons why Canadians don’t want to become more like Americans is becoming ever clearer, as are the reasons why some Americans appreciate Canadian values.