Current reconciliation efforts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are missing the main target, according to a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute. In "Pursuing Reconciliation: The Case for an Off-Reserve Urban Agenda," author John Richards argues that the federal government, provinces, and Indigenous leaders must develop an agenda for the majority of First Nation people who live off-reserve in urban settings.
Ottawa has directed increased funding for basic social services such as healthcare and education, for Indigenous peoples living on-reserve. These efforts have been worthy exercises in pursuit of reconciliation with those First Nation people wishing to live communally on-reserve. However, the majority of First Nation people now live in a city, and the majority of Métis now live in a large city.
"Any meaningful attempt at reconciliation requires not just an on-reserve agenda, but also an off-reserve urban agenda," said Richards.
To the extent that successful reconciliation entails enabling the next generation of Indigenous Canadians to escape poverty, achieving better K-12 and post-secondary education levels among them must be made a high priority. While the dynamic between education, poverty and employment earnings is complex, education levels—across all identity populations in Canada—are positively correlated to both employment earnings and employment rates. Closing the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people would likely help to significantly reduce the earnings gap between the two groups.
Given that two-thirds of the First Nation population live off-reserve, and one-third of children living on-reserve attend off-reserve (largely provincial) schools, provinces and provincial education systems will play a critical role in any successful off-reserve education strategy.
The author recommends:
- Extensively engaging Indigenous leaders, senior public school administrators, education faculties responsible for training teachers, and teachers' unions in developing an aggressive education strategy for off-reserve students.
- Significantly increasing provincial pre–K-12 education budgets.
- Ensuring the fiscal burden of such a strategy is evenly distributed across all provinces.
is Professor, Simon Fraser University and Fellow-in -Residence, C.D. Howe Institute.