5a) I've heard that living conditions on many reserves are deplorable. Why can't native people take care of what they have?
- Levina Lightboun, Haida
Of the 126,625 aboriginals living in B.C. (4.4% of the population of B.C.) 54.2% live on reserves. (B.C. has 1650 of Canada's 2300 reserves.) Of those living on reserve, 39% are under the age of 15.
Data outlining native life in B.C. reveals a terrifying reality:
Only 20% of native children complete Grade 12 compared to the provincial average of 75%. Though the formal education of native people significantly lags behind the rest of the province there have been dramatic and positive increases in the number of natives attending university and in the number of bands who have assumed control of schools on reserves.
Year Number of Indians Attending University 1960 60 1985/86 5800 1986/87 13,196 Year Number of Band-Operated Schools 1975/76 53 1986/87 243
Many reserves have considerable material resources but lack capital, often combined with the results of past government policies encouraging dependence and inhibiting economic development. Lack of opportunities to earn a living, combined with other social and psychological forces, result in poor living conditions.
A 1985 study by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) concludes that 47% of on-reserve housing fails to meet basic standards of physical adequacy and 36% of housing situations are seriously overcrowded. Nearly 19% of native houses have two or more families in them. Half the homes on reserve need major repairs. (Note that INAC itself decides housing allocations for bands. Only the small percentage of Indians on reserves with high incomes can afford better housing.)
The proportion of native children taken into the care of welfare authorities is five times the national average. Juvenile delinquents number three times the national average.
Accidental deaths are four to five times more common, suicides twice as common, and homicides ten times more common for native people than for non-natives.
Alcoholism is legendary, capturing entire communities in some instances.
Native babies die at twice the national average. Native men and women can expect to die ten years sooner than other Canadians.
5b) Why are employment, education, living conditions, and causes of death so unlike the rest of Canada?
The profile given by such data is not unlike other groups around the world - especially in the Third World - who have undergone a process of colonization and/or who suffer severe economic hardship.
In examining the social conditions on many reserves in B.C., the Premier's Council on Native Affairs "Progress Report and Interim Recommendations" (July 1990) concluded, in part: