Perry Bellegarde is sworn in after being re-elected as the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday July 25, 2018. He won 328 of the 522 votes in a second ballot, giving him just over the 60 per cent needed to be elected as leader for a second term. (Ben Nelms/The Canadian Press)

Half of Indigenous children live in poverty, Canadian study says

That figure rises to 53 per cent when looking at First Nations children living on reserves

About one in every two Indigenous children in Canada lives in poverty, says a study released Tuesday that also finds little evidence that the situation has improved over the last decade.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a statement that the findings in the study underscore the need to invest in First Nations children, families and communities. Bellegarde planned to drop the report in the laps of the country’s premiers, who gathered in Saskatchewan for an annual meeting.

“Canada is not tracking First Nations poverty on-reserve so we did,” Bellegarde said. “Our children face the worst social and economic conditions in the country. They deserve an opportunity to succeed.”

Published by the Upstream Institute, and written by researchers at the AFN and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the study found that 47 per cent of First Nations children on and off reserve live in poverty.

That figure rises to 53 per cent when looking at First Nations children living on reserves, or roughly three times the national rate of 17.6 per cent reported in the 2016 census.

Official poverty statistics don’t examine the situations on reserves except during census counts. Not tracking these figures, the study says, may muddle the statistics nationwide — particularly when the Liberals have linked historic reductions in child poverty to their policies since coming to office in 2015.

Compounding the issue is that the Liberals’ newly adopted national poverty line, which is used to track the effectiveness of the government’s poverty-reduction plan, isn’t calculated on reserves — an issue the AFN has raised with the government.

READ MORE: Canada not so great for kids compared with other rich countries: UNICEF

So the researchers did the calculations themselves with help from the statistics office.

Poring over data from the 2006 and 2016 census counts, the researchers found that poverty rates barely budged downward for most Indigenous communities. At the same time, the number of children on reserves stayed stagnant over that time at about 120,000, so it’s not a matter of growing populations outstripping social programs and economic growth.

The 2016 census reported 1.67 million Indigenous people in Canada, who had an average age nearly a decade younger and a higher fertility rate than the non-Indigenous population. Daniel Wilson, one of the authors of the report, said that young, growing cohort will face new challenges as they age unless the poverty situation changes now.

“What we’re looking at is 10 to 15 years from now, people entering the workforce with all of the disadvantages that poverty brings — in terms of health, in terms of mental clarity and acuity, in terms of opportunity, especially,” said Wilson, a non-status Mi’kmaq and special adviser to the AFN.

“They’ll be carrying all of those disadvantages … and will have that much more to overcome as a significant part of the emerging labour force.”

There were, however, some exceptions. On-reserve child-poverty rates in Quebec, for instance, were the lowest in the country in 2016, largely as a result of agreements with First Nations governments to share revenues from natural resources. Several cities have also seen drops in Indigenous child-poverty rates, including Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Edmonton.

Affordable-housing advocates said Tuesday morning that they wanted federal parties to commit to closing gaps in the Liberals’ decade-long national housing strategy, specifically for urban and rural Indigenous people, for whom the child-poverty rate is 41 per cent, according to the study.

In a report last month, the parliamentary budget office said that federal funding for off-reserve Indigenous households over the next 10 years amounted to half of what had been provided in the previous decade.

“Clearly this is a gap that needs to be filled by the parties in their election platforms and whomever forms the next government,” said Jeff Morrison, executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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