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Centre for the North Blogs

Constructive steps towards Indigenizing professional engineering by Jane Cooper, Senior Research Associate, The Conference Board of Canada | October 2020

You look at mining companies, or any natural resource extraction … and one of the primary types of conflicts that they have is with Indigenous people. That is happening because there is this massive cultural and knowledge gap between the science people and Indigenous people. In engineering, we would hugely benefit from a class on treaties. Because no matter where you go, you're going to deal with project management that has to do with Indigenous land, or Indigenous people, or Indigenous treaties.

Health emergencies in Indigenous communities in Canada: Then and now

Pandemics and diseases loom large in the history of Indigenous groups in Canada. Past outbreaks have had devastating outcomes, fueled by colonial policies and persistent inequalities.

Today, Indigenous communities are both receiving and giving support to counter COVID-19. But it is important that the current public health response acknowledges their history. By examining past pandemics, we can better understand how Indigenous communities are experiencing the current crisis.

Inclusive growth is more than jobs and GDP by Oana Spinu, Senior Research Associate and Adam Fiser, Associate Director at The Conference Board of Canada | June 2020

It is about dignity and quality of life through self-determination and sustainable livelihoods.

In a world shaken by the pandemic crisis and social inequality, many voices are now calling for measures to build a more inclusive society and economy. In Canada’s North, Inuit have been developing their own vision of inclusive growth, one where they share the same quality of life as all Canadians. Inclusive growth is more than jobs and GDP. It is about dignity and quality of life through self-determination and sustainable livelihoods.

Responding to COVID-19—Indigenous communities can’t be expected to do more with less by Stefan Fournier, Director, Indigenous and Northern Communities, The Conference Board of Canada | May 2020

When Canada’s rural and remote Indigenous communities face emergencies, they often lack the resources and supports common to most Canadian towns and cities. But despite being at a comparative disadvantage, these communities generally manage to respond. They do this by using their strengths—by relying on informal practices, traditional knowledge, local skills, and on each other.

It is remarkable what First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities can do with little to work with. Many communities are again looking to their strengths and ingenuity, as they face the threat of COVID-19. But should we be expecting these communities to do more with less? Does this produce optimal outcomes?

Fast-Tracked Innovations: Could COVID-19 Accelerate Health Technologies in Canada’s North?
by Ken Coates, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation and Carin Holroyd, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan and Joelena Leader, Research Facilitator, Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan | April 2020

The coronavirus crisis of 2020 has exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian health care system. This is particularly true in Canada’s North, where isolated Indigenous communities face the prospects of widespread infection with great anxiety. The remoteness of Northern settlements—coupled with serious housing shortages, overcrowded homes, and limited health care services—heighten the dangers of the pandemic.

Addressing the causes of Indigenous vulnerability to pandemics—not just the symptoms
by Oana Spinu, Senior Research Associate I, The Conference Board of Canada and Jordan Wapass, Principal Research Associate, The Conference Board of Canada | March 2020

Many have rightfully called for decisive government action to ensure that Indigenous communities have essential resources to respond to COVID-19. In response to the immediate needs of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, the federal government announced $305 million for a distinctions-based Indigenous Communities Support Fund. Only time will tell how effective the fund will be in empowering communities to deal with the crisis.

Fostering Reconciliation: Investing in Indigenous-Centred Early Childhood Education

Sep 07, 2016
Kala Pendakur Kala Pendakur
Research Associate
Northern and Aboriginal Policy
Kiran Alwani Kiran Alwani
Student Intern
Northern and Aboriginal Policy

During The Tragically Hip’s final concert in Kingston last month, lead singer Gord Downie took a moment to reflect on the situation facing many Indigenous peoples in Canada. He emphasized the need to capitalize on the current momentum to take action. During his powerful callout to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian population at large, Downie pointed to our collective lack of knowledge of issues facing the North and Indigenous people. He spoke of the urgent need for change—and there is clear evidence to support this.

Many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals and communities across the country face significant social, financial, and institutional challenges that have kept them from achieving their potential. As of 2010, roughly two-in-five Indigenous children in Canada were living below the poverty line, and the Indigenous population at large is over-represented in government care.1 Indigenous communities, in particular, face severe structural barriers related to education that have led, in part, to their people routinely having lower scores in numeracy and literacy and being more likely than non-Aboriginals to repeat primary school, drop out of school at an early age, and be unemployed. This has led to a cycle of intergenerational poverty and inequality.

Beyond the simple fact that the conditions that many Indigenous children face are unacceptable, there is a real economic disadvantage in not investing in Indigenous kids. The Indigenous population has been growing at about three times the rate of the non-Aboriginal population. It is expected that about 300,000 Indigenous young people will enter the Canadian labour force from 2007 to 2022, and it is in all our interests to create the conditions that foster their full participation in the Canadian economy.2 Employing Indigenous people at a rate equivalent to the non-Aboriginal population alone would boost the economy of Saskatchewan by an estimated $1.8 billion by 2035.3 In the face of an aging overall population in Canada, the economic growth that we are calling for may depend on our ability to more strongly engage Indigenous people, particularly the next generation.

While there is no silver bullet, experts have noted repeatedly that high-quality, Indigenous-centred early childhood education helps young Indigenous children develop a sense of belonging and well-being, and provides them with the foundation to cope with the challenging conditions they often face. A strong and relevant foundation allows them to thrive socially, emotionally, and academically. National Aboriginal organizations, such as the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Assembly of First Nations, as well as the territorial governments, have provided recommendations to create early childhood development programming that starts from an Aboriginal context and perspective. The recurring themes among their recommendations include the creation of a model that is child-centred, family-focused, and community-driven.

Despite the recognized value of programs built along these lines, evidence shows that there has been insufficient investment in Indigenous early childhood education programming. As recently as 2009, it was estimated that fewer than one-in-five Indigenous children had access to any sort of early childhood education programs.4 Given the lack of universal access, The Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North, guided by Indigenous, government, and private-sector leaders, will be undertaking an analysis of available early childhood education services in remote regions, their longer-term impact on Indigenous children, and possible solutions for improving program accessibility.

Indigenous groups across the country have commended Downie for lending his powerful voice to this issue and for putting a spotlight on what is one of the most difficult public policy challenges in Canada. The weight of evidence would suggest that they are correct—there is a clear need for action that will benefit everyone. What better way could there be to promote reconciliation than by providing the resources and opportunities for Indigenous youth to grow and learn in an environment that celebrates their cultures, languages, and traditions while preparing them to realize their potential within Canadian society and the economy? How governments direct their attention and resources to these issues in the coming years will have a significant impact on the future of Canada—not just for Indigenous people, but for all Canadians.

Related Webinar

Supporting Indigenous Students: Improving PSE Completion Rates for At Risk Youth
The Conference Board of Canada, September 15, 2016 at 02:00 PM EDT


1    D. Macdonald and D. Wilson, Shameful Neglect: Indigenous Child Poverty in Canada (Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016) 11.

2    Parliament of Canada—House of Commons, Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development: No Higher Priority: Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education in Canada (February 2007) 39th Parliament, 1st Session (Ottawa: Government of Canada, 2007) 5.

3    J. Brichta and M. Parkouda, Realizing the Potential: Priority Investments in Saskatchewan’s First Nations and Métis People (Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2013) ii.

4    J. Ball, Improving the Reach of Early Childhood Education for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Children (Toronto: Moving Childcare Forward Project, 2014) 13.

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