Social Outcomes in the Territories
- The territories generally fall behind the Canadian average on measures of equity and social cohesion.
- Key challenges that help explain these outcomes include educational attainment, service availability, geographic isolation, and lack of infrastructure.
- Culturally specific measures of social cohesion—such as access to informal networks of emotional, social, and material support—are vital to understanding social cohesion in the territories and especially in remote Northern Indigenous communities.
Why look at social outcomes in the territories separately from the rest of Canada?
When assessing social outcomes in the territories, we need to consider the context that helps explain why average territorial performance is distinct from and, in many cases, lower than the provincial averages in the How Canada Performs society report card.
First, the geography of the territories affects many of the equity and social cohesion indicators in the report card. For example, the vast distances between many communities can be a barrier to individuals seeking post-secondary education, which then affects their ability to obtain higher-skilled employment. This, in turn, can affect rates of labour market participation and, consequently, unemployment—an important indicator of social outcomes.
Second, while the overall population of the territories is small, it includes substantial Indigenous populations that face distinct historical, cultural, and socio-economic challenges, including the impacts of residential schools. Although culturally diverse, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit populations in Canada share demographic features that distinguish them from non-Indigenous populations. Notably, the Indigenous populations of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are much younger than the Canadian average, and the Indigenous populations of the territories make up about 51 per cent of the population North of 60.1
Third, data for all the indicators used to benchmark social outcomes for the provinces and peer countries are not available for the territories. For example, there are no internationally comparable data for the territories on poverty and income inequality—key indicators in the society report card. Smaller population sizes and issues of confidentiality, language barriers, and the unique challenges of engaging rural and remote Indigenous communities in the territories account for a large part of data gaps.
How do we measure equity and social cohesion in the territories?
A modified version of the framework used for the How Canada Performs society report card is used to assess social performance in the territories relative to the national average. Measures of poverty, income distribution, income mobility, and gender and racial wage gaps are used to compare levels of equity in the territories. A suite of indicators including participation in the labour market and traditional activities, voter turnout, rates of homicides, burglaries, and suicides, and residents’ reported life satisfaction are used to compare levels of social cohesion.
| ||Indicators used to assess equity and social cohesion in the territories ||Indicators used to measure equity and social cohesion in the provinces and peer countries |
|Equity || |
- Income distribution by income decile
- Intergenerational income mobility
- Gender wage gap
- Racial wage gap (Indigenous and non-Indigenous population)
- Income inequality
- Intergenerational income mobility
- Gender wage gap
- Racial wage gap
- Immigrant wage gap
- Income of people with disabilities
|Social Cohesion || |
- Jobless youth
- Unemployment rate
- Voter turnout
- Life satisfaction
- Indigenous participation in traditional activities
- Jobless youth
- Voter turnout
- Life satisfaction
- Social network support
Source: The Conference Board of Canada.
What affects the territories’ performance on measures of equity and social cohesion?
Educational attainment, differences in the availability of social services (e.g., mental health service availability across regions), geographic isolation, household crowding, and infrastructure deficits all affect how the territories perform on measures of equity and social cohesion.
The availability and accessibility of relevant education and skills training can have significant effects on both equity and social cohesion.
Post-secondary institutions—such as Yukon College, Aurora College (N.W.T.), and Nunavut Arctic College—give people some options in the territories to further their education without having to leave their communities or regions.2 These colleges offer academic options (for instance, Aurora College offers a bachelor of education and a bachelor of science in nursing)3 and vocational and apprenticeship training opportunities.
Recently, territorial governments have committed to strengthening these options. Nunavut, for example, is allocating $1.6 million of its 2017–18 budget to support a new law program between Nunavut Arctic College and the University of Saskatchewan and $1.3 million to help the college fund its social worker and early childhood education programs.4 However, students in remote communities may have to fly to larger population areas to access such opportunities.
Post-secondary educational attainment has generally been improving in the territories, but except for Yukon, it is still lower than the national average. As of 2011, the most recent year of available data, Yukon leads the territories and the national average, with 67.1 per cent of adults aged 25 to 64 having completed a post-secondary certificate, diploma, or degree. The N.W.T., at 59.3 per cent of the population with post-secondary qualifications, falls slightly below the national average of 64.1 per cent. In Nunavut, only 41.6 per cent of adults have completed some form of post-secondary education.
There are also substantial proportions of the population with less than a high-school diploma in the N.W.T. (21.6 per cent) and Nunavut (46.0 per cent).5
Within the territories, there are substantial differences in the average educational attainment of Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals. As noted in the 2014 How Canada Performs report card on education and skills in the territories, key contextual factors such as language and culture, family and community support, and governance help explain these different social outcomes.
Geographic Isolation and Household Crowding
Many residents of remote communities in the territories must travel substantial distances to obtain health and social services.6 Paradoxically, despite the vast spaces that may separate communities, there is often limited space available for households and limited housing stock within communities. As a result, remote communities in the N.W.T. and Nunavut have high levels of household crowding (that is, more than one person per room in a dwelling)7 compared with the rest of Canada (7.3 per cent of households in the territories are considered crowded compared with just 2.0 per cent across Canada).8 These levels of overcrowding have been found to contribute to increased social and medical stress.9
Deficits in critical infrastructure—such as all-season roads and broadband telecommunications—keep communities separated, impede the delivery of health and educational services, and hinder economic opportunities. Residents may, therefore, experience greater stress and isolation, and this affects their standing on measures of equity and social cohesion.10
Nunavut’s and N.W.T.’s limited broadband telecommunications facilities, for example, restrict their citizens’ ability to participate in the digital economy and take advantage of innovative applications such as e-learning. Given that new workplace skills, such as problem-solving in technology-rich environments, depend on access to adequate computing infrastructure and connectivity, many remote Northern and Indigenous communities continue to be at an economic disadvantage.
Inadequate technological infrastructure also affects individuals living in remote and Indigenous communities in terms of access to tele-justice services (such as circuit courts and legal support services via video-conferencing). At a time when Indigenous people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and rates of crime are relatively high in the territories, this is a cause for concern. A sense of personal and community safety is essential to social cohesion. The physical, psychological, and financial effects of crime reduce levels of trust in a society and therefore can affect its overall social cohesion.11
How do the territories perform on measures of equity?
Equity is assessed by examining performance on five indicators: income distribution, poverty (i.e., the prevalence of low-income families), intergenerational income mobility (i.e., the extent to which differences in income are transmitted from one generation to the next), the gender wage gap, and the racial wage gap.
Income Distribution and Poverty
At first glance, average incomes in the territories appear to be higher than the national average. For instance, 32 per cent of individuals in Yukon, 42 per cent in the N.W.T., and 24 per cent in Nunavut occupy the top two Canadian income deciles. However, these findings need to be put into perspective, as they do not factor in the cost of living and goods, which can be significantly higher in the North than in the South.12
The story also changes considerably when looking at the income distribution of Indigenous individuals in the territories. About 25 per cent of Indigenous individuals in Yukon, 24 per cent in the N.W.T., and 30 per cent in Nunavut occupy the bottom two Canadian income deciles (that is, the bottom 20 per cent). In comparison, 13 per cent of the total population in Yukon, 16 per cent in N.W.T., and 26 per cent in Nunavut occupy the bottom deciles. For Nunavut, the shares in the bottom two deciles for the Indigenous population and total population are very close, which is not surprising given that the Indigenous population constitutes over 85 per cent of the territory’s entire population.13
The income disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals have implications for related measures of social cohesion, including crime rates and life satisfaction. As noted by the OECD: “the more unequal a society is, the more difficult it is to move up the social ladder, simply because children have a greater gap to make up.”14
While the income disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals can be high, education helps level the playing field. The How Canada Performs report on education and skills in the territories found that, on average, Indigenous individuals in the territories receive a higher income advantage than non-Indigenous individuals for post-secondary education. For example, Indigenous university graduates in the territories consistently earned over $160 for every $100 earned by an Indigenous high-school graduate in 2010, while non-Indigenous individuals with a university degree earned less than $155 for every $100 earned by a non-Indigenous high-school graduate.15
For the society report card poverty indicator, relative measures of income—called low income measures (LIMs)—are used to assess how people fare compared with the general population. For a given country or region, the poverty line is calculated as 50 per cent of the national median income. The poverty rate is then calculated as the share of the population with disposable income (after taxes and government transfers) below this poverty line.
The source of the poverty data used in the society report card is the OECD regional well-being database. The data for Canada and the provinces in this database are from Statistics Canada’s Canadian Income Survey, which does not include the territories. To measure poverty in the territories, we use Statistics Canada’s low income measure, using data from its Annual Income Estimates for Census Families and Individuals program, which uses income tax return data primarily from the Canada Revenue Agency. The poverty line for this after-tax low income measure is 50 per cent of adjusted family income, which takes into consideration family needs. The adjustment accounts for the fact that family needs increase with family size. A family is then considered to be low income when their income is below the low-income measure line calculated for their family type (e.g., couple family, lone parent family) and size.
Compared with the Canadian average, Yukon has a low proportion of families who fall under the low income measure. This may be due in part to the high employment rate and the relatively high number of individuals employed in public administration, an industry that generally comes with union support and for many positions requires training beyond high school.16 Notably, only 4 per cent of couple families in Yukon are considered low income (compared with 8 per cent across Canada). Just under a quarter (24 per cent) of lone-parent families in Yukon are considered low income (compared with 32 per cent across Canada).
In contrast, 21 per cent of couple families and 51 per cent of lone-parent families in Nunavut are considered low income. In N.W.T., 8 per cent of couple families and 41 per cent of lone-parent families are considered low income.
Intergenerational Income Mobility
Intergenerational income mobility refers to how income levels change across generations. It is measured by calculating the elasticity of intergenerational earnings. If there were no intergenerational income mobility, all poor children would become poor adults, and all rich children would become rich adults.
A higher elasticity number implies that it is more difficult for people to move outside the income bracket they were born into. For example, in a region with an intergenerational income elasticity of 0.50, if a father’s income was $10,000 higher than the average, then his child will earn $5,000 more than an average person of the same age.17 In other words, 50 per cent of the earnings advantage is passed along to the child.
The territories all have a lower income elasticity (higher intergenerational income mobility) than the Canadian average (0.201). Although separate data for the N.W.T. and Nunavut are not available, the two territories together have an intergenerational earnings elasticity of 0.175, meaning the child of a father whose income was $10,000 lower than the average would earn $1,750 less than the average. Yukon has slightly lower mobility, with an intergenerational earnings elasticity of 0.187.
Gender Wage Gap
The gender wage gap is measured by calculating the difference between male and female median weekly full-time earnings as a share of male median full-time earnings.
Despite growth in female educational attainment and labour force participation over the past several decades, the gender wage gap remains a challenge that disproportionately affects low-income and Indigenous women.18 Closing the gender wage gap and the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals is crucial to achieving a more inclusive and cohesive society.
Closing these gaps would also boost economic growth and have a positive impact on other key societal measures such as poverty and income inequality.19
N.W.T.’s gender wage gap of 23 per cent is higher than the national average (19 per cent), while the gaps in both Nunavut (2 per cent) and Yukon (8 per cent) are much lower.
Nunavut’s low gender wage gap may be due in part to the industries that men and women in the territory most prominently work in. In 2011, the top industries for women (excluding retail) were health, education, and public administration jobs. These jobs typically include union support and generally require training beyond high school. In contrast, the top industries for men (excluding retail) were public administration, construction, and transportation.20
The wage gap in the N.W.T. may be due, in part, to the higher share of men employed in the resource industry, an industry that has propelled economic growth in the territory.21
Racial Wage Gap
Racial wage gaps contribute to an individual’s feelings of social marginalization and vulnerability. They also create a racialized experience of poverty that fragments society.22 The racial wage gap is measured by calculating the difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous full-year, full-time median wages and salaries as a share of non-Indigenous median wages and salaries. This measure was calculated for men and women who held a high-school diploma in 2010 and those who held a university degree at the time.
Across Canada, the racial wage gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals with a high-school diploma is substantial: 19.2 per cent for men and 15.7 per cent for women, with a positive value indicating the difference in earnings was in favour of non-Indigenous individuals.
These gaps are only amplified in the territories, where Indigenous men face a larger wage gap than Indigenous women. Notably, the largest gap for Indigenous men is in Nunavut—in 2010, Indigenous men earned 61.0 per cent less than their non-Indigenous peers. Indigenous men earned 38.7 per cent and 46.1 per cent less than non-Indigenous men in Yukon and the N.W.T. respectively.
Finding ways to reduce the gap in earnings between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals is especially important given the relatively large proportion of the Indigenous population without a post-secondary qualification.23
Although there exist significant wage gaps for individuals with a high-school diploma, higher education helps close the wage gap and, in many cases, provides for greater benefits for Indigenous individuals over non-Indigenous individuals.
Notably, except for Indigenous men in Nunavut, Indigenous individuals with a university degree across the territories earned more than their non-Indigenous counterparts in 2010.24 For instance, Indigenous men in Yukon earned on average 24.6 per cent more and Indigenous women earned on average 29.3 per cent more than their non-Indigenous peers. The wage advantage for Yukon might be influenced by the type of jobs that Indigenous individuals fill; in 2010 nearly 40 per cent of the Indigenous workforce (compared with 26 per cent of the non-Indigenous population) was employed in public administration jobs, which generally include union support.25
How do the territories perform on measures of social cohesion?
Diverse indicators are used to measure social cohesion. The unemployment rate, the proportion of jobless youth (i.e., the share of young people aged 20 to 24 not in school or working), and the voter turnout rate are used to measure the extent to which people participate in their communities. The rates of homicides, burglaries, and suicides provide information on the breakdown of community life. Life satisfaction and participation in traditional activities are used to measure how people feel about their lives and how active they are in their social networks.
Yukon has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. However, N.W.T.’s rate is higher than the national average, and high unemployment persists in Nunavut.26 In 2016, the unemployment rates in the territories were 5.6 per cent in Yukon, 7.4 per cent in the N.W.T., and 14.9 per cent in Nunavut.27 The national unemployment rate that year was 7 per cent.28
Unemployment rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals differ substantially in the North. For instance, the unemployment rate for non-Indigenous individuals with a high-school diploma in Nunavut was 2.7 per cent in 2011; in comparison, Indigenous individuals with the same credentials had an unemployment rate of 17.9 per cent. Some research associates these differences with how prepared remote Indigenous workers versus urban non-Indigenous workers are in navigating wage economy demands,29 highlighting issues such as employability skills and time management. In contrast, other research points to the need for employers to be more understanding and tailor their human resource strategies to the different perspectives and needs of remote Indigenous workers.30 In addition, some territorial schools have faced challenges in balancing Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives on essential skills and language31 (particularly when a language at home may be different from the language commonly used in the workplace).
Three types of local economies prevail in Northern Canada: public service based, resource based, and traditional mixed-economy based. Much of the recent economic growth in the Canadian North has been driven by investments in the mining, oil, and gas sectors, as well as associated construction opportunities in building up these sectors. Although community residents in the territories benefit from these sectors, many of their communities continue to “suffer what is typical of peripheral economic regions around the world, slow economic growth and high rates of unemployment.”32
While mining and construction propel GDP in Nunavut, public administration and defence services are the main drivers of employment, representing over a quarter of the employed population in 2015.33 Defined agreements, such as impact benefit agreements between communities and mining companies, or affirmative action agreements within territorial government bodies, work to help Indigenous individuals in Nunavut find jobs and training.34
The share of jobless youth, defined as the proportion of the population aged 20 to 24 who are not in education, employment, or training, is another measure of social cohesion. Young adults who are not attending school or working face a higher risk of poverty and social isolation, which can have a significant impact on the individual and their communities. Furthermore, a high level of jobless youth can hurt a region’s overall socio-economic performance.35
While Yukon’s proportion of jobless youth is comparable to the national average, the proportions of jobless youth in the N.W.T. and Nunavut are significantly higher. Over half (51.8 per cent) of youth in Nunavut and nearly a quarter of youth in N.W.T. (23.8 per cent) are not in school or working. Given that 20- to 24-year-olds make up proportionally the largest group among the working-age population in Nunavut, at just under 16 per cent of working-age adults, this rate of joblessness has a substantial impact on labour market performance.36
Youth in the territories face several barriers to finding employment. Geographic distances and cultural differences between their homes and post-secondary institutions in the South act as barriers to achieving the training and credentials they would need for higher-skilled employment.37 Also, among Indigenous youth, the prevalence of early school leaving and young parenthood has been recognized as a barrier to labour market participation.38
The nature of the work available can also be a barrier. Resource extraction jobs, for example, routinely operate on a rotational work schedule and are associated with work rosters that do not necessarily synch with the lifestyle patterns and traditional activities that Indigenous youth may be more accustomed to in their home communities. These traditional activities, such as hunting and harvesting, have been shown to play an important role in the cultural and personal wellness of Indigenous youth in the territories.39
Our last measure of community participation is the voter turnout rate. This measure gages the civic engagement of residents through participation in the political system.
Using data from the 2015 federal election, the voter turnout rate is measured as the total number of votes cast as a share of the number of registered voters.
The highest turnout rate in the last election within the territories was in Yukon, with a rate of 75.8 per cent (which was also higher than the Canadian average of 68.3 per cent). Nunavut’s turnout rate of 59.4 per cent was significantly lower than that of Yukon, whereas the N.W.T. fell in between the two with a rate of 63.4 per cent. The low turnout rate in Nunavut may be driven by the large youth population, a group that tends to have a low turnout rate.40
Although voter turnout in the N.W.T. and Nunavut was lower than the Canadian average, each territory saw significant increases in turnout from the previous (2011) federal election. The turnout rate climbed 14.7 percentage points in Yukon, and 13.7 percentage points in Nunavut, and 9.5 percentage points in N.W.T.41
Breakdown of Community Life
For the indicators that measure the breakdown in community life, note that this report looks at rates and not the actual number of incidents. Thus, a high homicide or suicide rate for a province or territory with a low population can translate into a relatively low number of actual homicides or suicides. Similarly, a seemingly low homicide or suicide rate may reflect a high number of homicides or suicides for a highly populated province.
Crime is a serious concern for people living in the territories. The homicide rates in the territories are significantly higher than the national average.
Nunavut has the highest average homicide rate among all the provinces and territories, at 9.3 deaths per 100,000 population (ranging from 2 to 4 deaths per year) between 2013 and 2015, which is over six times higher than the national average of 1.5 deaths per 100,000 population.42 Similarly, the N.W.T. has a high average homicide rate of 7.6 deaths per 100,00 population (resulting from between 2 to 5 deaths)—a rate that is roughly five times higher than the Canadian average.43 Yukon’s three-year average homicide rate of 3.6 (ranging from 0 to 3 deaths)44 is high (comparable to the rate of Manitoba, 3.7, which had the highest average homicide rate among the provinces); however, it is due in large part to a high homicide rate in 2014 of 8.2 deaths per 100,000 population (3 deaths). In 2013, Yukon had no recorded homicides.
The homicide rates in the territories reflect, and can be explained in part by the experiences of the Canadian Indigenous population, which has historically seen disproportionate levels of homicides. In 2015, despite representing roughly 5 per cent of the Canadian population, Indigenous individuals accounted for 25 per cent of homicide victims in the country. Across Canada, the homicide rate for Indigenous men in 2015 was 12.9 deaths per 100,000 population and the rate for Indigenous women was 4.8 deaths per 100,000 population.45 A spotlight has been placed on the violence faced by Indigenous women in recent years, with the federal government launching the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls with the aim to document and comprehend violence faced by these women.46
The territories also face a disproportionately high level of burglaries compared with Southern Canada. Between 2013 and 2015, Nunavut had from 600 to 605 reported burglaries per year, resulting in an average burglary rate that was 3.8 times higher than the Canadian average (1,668 versus 438 burglaries per 100,000 population).47 While not quite as high, the N.W.T. had an average of 1,207 reported burglaries per 100,000 population, roughly 2.8 times more than the Canadian average, resulting from between 460 and 607 burglaries per year.48 Finally, Yukon’s rate (652 burglaries per 100,000 population) stemmed from between 212 and 300 break-ins and was roughly 1.5 times higher than the Canadian average.49
Issues of overlapping jurisdictions between territorial, Indigenous, and in some cases federal programs can complicate policy responses to crime and the delivery of services such education and health. Small and remote Indigenous communities also face resource challenges that affect local policing efforts and crime prevention strategies.
The territories also have higher suicide rates than the national average. Common risk factors for suicide include mental disorders, particularly depression and substance abuse, as well as personal crises, conflict or disaster, violence or abuse, or a sense of isolation. Ensuring adequate institutions are in place to address root causes, raise awareness, and invest in multi-sectoral suicide prevention strategies is imperative to strengthening equity and social cohesion in the territories.
Between 2010 and 2012, the territories had higher rates of suicide than the Canadian average of 11.0 deaths per 100,000 population. Yukon had an average suicide rate of 13.9 deaths per 100,000 population (stemming from 4 to 7 deaths per year), while N.W.T. had an average rate of 16.1 deaths per 100,000 population (between 6 and 8 deaths).50 Nunavut, however, has significantly higher suicide rates. Between 2010 and 2012, Nunavut had an average suicide rate of 65.5 deaths per 100,000 population (23 to 24 deaths per year), nearly six times higher than the national average.
A recent study called Learning From Lives That Have Been Lived sought to better understand why Nunavut’s suicide rates are higher than the Canadian average.51 The study looked back at 120 suicides in the territory between 2003 and 2006 through a combination of interviews with friends and families of the victims and medical and police records. It found that nearly half of the victims had experienced domestic violence during childhood, and a significant proportion (almost three-quarters) had been diagnosed with more than one mental health disorder.52
Recognizing the high rates of suicide in the territory, the Government of Nunavut has implemented several suicide prevention measures, ranging from Break the Silence videos that encourage Nunavummiut to talk about suicide, to on-the-ground school and Elder presentations.53 The territorial government also worked with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Embrace Life Council, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2010 on a territorial suicide prevention strategy.54 The strategy is based on three core components: the need for a full range of mental health services, evidence-based interventions, and community-development activities that promote individual and community mental wellness. It also outlines commitments such as the Government of Nunavut delivering ongoing suicide-intervention training and all partners supporting ongoing research to better understand suicide in the territory. Similarly, the National Aboriginal Health Organization, which closed in 2012, had developed a suicide prevention document focusing on Inuit traditional practices that encouraged coping and resiliency in 2006.55
On an encouraging note, all three territories saw their overall suicide rates decrease between 2000 and 2012. Yukon saw a 17 per cent decrease, the N.W.T. a 13 per cent decrease, and Nunavut a 20 per cent decrease. However, each territory experienced large fluctuations in the year-to-year rate, largely because of their small populations. For instance, the suicide rate in N.W.T. was 12.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 2011 (6 deaths) and jumped to 19.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 2012 (8 deaths).56
Life Satisfaction and Social Networks
Despite their relatively high unemployment, crime rates, and poverty compared with the Canadian average, the territories do well on a subjective measure of social cohesion: life satisfaction.
Life satisfaction is measured as the average score of responses given to the question “how do you feel about your life as a whole right now?” Responses to this question are given using a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means “very dissatisfied” and 10 means “very satisfied.”57 A region’s score is the average value of individual responses in that region.
Life satisfaction scores in Yukon (7.88) and the N.W.T. (7.77) are lower than the national average (7.98). However, Nunavut’s rating of 8.15 places it above the Canadian average.
Nunavut’s level of life satisfaction is surprising given the territory’s high burglary, homicide, and suicide rates; however, alternative measures of social cohesion may help to partially explain these results. One explanation for the high level of life satisfaction expressed by Nunavummiut is the role of networks of family and other kinship ties (e.g., neighbours and friends). In a harsh environment where personal resources may be scarce, family and neighbourhood networks have been noted as being especially important to individual well-being because they provide stability, help to supplement people’s diets (through acts of food sharing), and contribute to a sense of belonging.58 These relations play such an important role that, when asked about happiness, Inuit from Igloolik and Qikiqtarjuaq (Nunavut) mentioned family four times more than the next common theme of being on the land.59
Culturally specific measures of social cohesion—such as an individual’s access to informal networks of emotional, social, and material support—are vital to understanding social cohesion in the territories and especially in remote Northern Indigenous communities.60
One of the ways to measure access to informal networks is to look at what proportion of the Indigenous population participates in traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, trapping, and producing arts and crafts. High levels of participation in these activities may allow for participation in networks of country food exchange and immersion in cultural activities, both of which support social cohesion.
Nunavut, whose population is roughly 86 per cent Indigenous (majority Inuit),61 features the highest rate of Indigenous participation in traditional activities in Canada. Nearly 70 per cent of the Indigenous population in the territory from ages 15 to 24 participated in some form of traditional activity in 2011. Over 50 per cent of the remaining adult population in Nunavut participated in some form of traditional activity.
While not as high as in Nunavut, the Indigenous populations in both Yukon and the N.W.T. had higher rates of participation in traditional activities than the Canadian average. Participation in these types of activities is encouraged by initiatives such as the NWT on the Land Collaborative, which provides funding, supports, and resources for cultural revitalization and land-based education programs.62
What can be done to improve social outcomes in the territories?
No single factor explains why a region may have reduced social cohesion or greater inequity. These complex issues can be partially explained by several interrelated socio-economic factors along with situational circumstances. Therefore, improving social cohesion and reducing inequity within a region requires multiple cross-sector strategies.
In light of the measures discussed here, policy action in the following strategic areas should be considered:
- Improve education outcomes, with a specific focus on culturally appropriate curriculum and programming for Indigenous individuals.
- Improve access to health care, including mental health services in the territories.
- Ensure ongoing investments in poverty reduction strategies.
A reoccurring theme across measures of inequity and social cohesion in the North is the level of educational attainment. On average, Indigenous individuals in the territories face lower levels of educational attainment than non-Indigenous individuals, and this affects several of the society indicators in this report (e.g., jobless youth, the unemployment rate, poverty, and crime rates).
Reducing the educational gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals will benefit everyone in society, as education serves as a ladder to upward social mobility. A focus on early-childhood development programs, particularly for disadvantaged children, for example, the N.W.T.’s kindergarten programs that focus on fostering a sense of identity in addition to developing the basics of reading, writing, and mathematics,63 as well as initiatives like the N.W.T.’s Skills for Success, which aims to reduce education gaps, will help improve social outcomes in the future.64
Given the vast distances and the nature of dispersed communities in Northern regions, people in the territories generally must travel great distances to obtain health services that may not be obtainable in their local communities. Exacerbating this challenge is the limited number of medical practitioners in the North.65 As it stands, the territories have developed strategies to provide health care services and incentives to recruit and, more importantly, retain health care professionals.66 Greater research into these strategies and subsequent investments in initiatives to ensure equal access to health care, including mental health services, will be important to ensure that Northerners have the same opportunities as individuals in the South.
Finally, Yukon, the N.W.T., and Nunavut have all undertaken poverty reduction strategies over the past 10 years.67 Recurring themes across the strategies include strengthening food security and housing for their most disadvantaged populations. Furthering these current strategies with parallel efforts to strengthen education and health services will help to alleviate the persistent challenges to equity and social cohesion in the territories.