Inclusion for All: A Canadian Roadmap to Social Cohesion Insights from Structured Conversations

4. Capacity building in Aboriginal communities

Participants recognized that the condition of Aboriginal Canadians is an area where social cohesion research would be particularly apt. Government researchers noted that the overall Aboriginal population is becoming much younger than the rest of the Canadian population – a trend that presents challenges as well as opportunities to enhance social cohesion and inclusion for this demographic group. The high percentage of Aboriginal youth under the age of 15, coupled with continued low educational attainments, suggests that some socio-economic conditions may worsen as this group matures and experiences limited access to the labour market.

Many reasons were cited for concern about the participation and sense of efficacy of Aboriginal people.

Those in urban centres face particular challenges. However, participants involved with the Canadian Rural Partnership noted that, as well, social deficits in rural Canada are particularly intense in Aboriginal communities. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Homelessness Secretariat, among others, are conducting research that points toward poor performance for many Aboriginal people on various social-economic indicators. The over representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system is a case in point, and addressing this problem was identified as a national goal in the last Speech from the Throne. Research is looking at why some Aboriginal communities are faced with crisis levels of violence, while others are relatively safe.

Senior executives said:

We need to distinguish the more positive ways of intervening and identify how we can work well with communities and other levels of government.

Participants expressed the view that Aboriginal people have a strong interest in capacity building and self-realization. Choices for Aboriginal Canadians to participate in the Canadian economy and society were thought to be limited. One Aboriginal participant noted that Aboriginal peoples sometimes feel that they are “shut down, shut up and shut out.”

Aboriginal participants said they did not want their issues to be subsumed under the issue of multiculturalism; nor did they want to be considered an ethnic minority. Further, they said they would not be comfortable with any conception of social cohesion that suggests it is a search for homogeneity. It is important for all Canadians to accept and listen to non-mainstream perspectives and, in particular, to recognize the major contribution which Aboriginal culture and people have made, and continue to make, to Canadian society. While the issues of Aboriginal people are unique in Canada, they are not consistent across Aboriginal communities. One Aboriginal participant cautioned against assuming that Aboriginal communities are models of social cohesion or that they all share the same point of view. On the contrary, they vary greatly; a better understanding of the dynamics of different Aboriginal communities is needed. Building capacity and promoting leadership through action-oriented research was recommended.

A great deal of research has already been done in this area, and the focus, those consulted advised, should now be on demonstration projects and pilot projects that involve communities, rather than waiting for new research results before taking action. While knowledge of what works may be incomplete, participants suggested that demonstration initiatives and other work should begin now to allow for learning through practice.

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