Dispelling the Myths About Indigenous People
Presentation of the theme
(The majority of this document comes from a publication “Aboriginal Workforce Participation Initiative,” Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 1998, with updates from Statistics Canada. The publication is very consistent with other similar documents, such as the 2012 publication by TD Bank called “Debunking 10 myths surrounding Canada’s Aboriginal population.”)
Many misconceptions about Aboriginal peoples in Canada are based on stereotyping and lack of information. These misconceptions have serious consequences and are often at the root of racism and discrimination that Aboriginal peoples continue to experience today. For employers, ongoing misconceptions about Aboriginal peoples can adversely impact the effectiveness of their Aboriginal workforce participation initiatives.
Dispelling the myths is one step towards building relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Here are 10 common myths about Aboriginal peoples, along with factual information that will help to dispel them.
MYTH: All Aboriginal peoples are the same.
- The Aboriginal population is very diverse:
- The Aboriginal population is composed of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples – each with a different history, culture and society.
- Over 50 Aboriginal languages are spoken in Canada today.
- Aboriginal peoples live in many different parts of Canada -in geographically diverse locations such as urban centres, rural communities and remote locations. As of 2016, half of Status Indians live in urban areas.
MYTH: Aboriginal peoples have always had the same rights as others in Canada.
- Only recently have Aboriginal peoples begun to obtain the same rights as other people in Canada:
- Registered First Nations peoples obtained the right to vote in 1960.
- In light of the 1973 Calder case and the 1997 Delgamuukw case, Aboriginal title equals communal ownership of land (excluding individual ownership). Throughout history, Aboriginal peoples were denied certain rights afforded other people in Canada:
- In 1880, an amendment to the Indian Act provided for automatic enfranchisement (loss of status) of any Indian who earned a university degree or any Indian woman who married a non-Indian or an unregistered Indian. Enfranchisement was not officially repealed until 1985.
- In 1884, an amendment to the Indian Act instituted prison sentences for anyone participating in potlatch, tawartawa dance and other rituals (traditional Aboriginal ceremonies).
MYTH: Aboriginal peoples are responsible for their current situation.
The Facts: Many factors have contributed to the situation of Aboriginal peoples in Canada:
- Prior to European contact, Aboriginal societies were strong and self-sufficient.
- While Aboriginal peoples were never conquered, the process of colonization resulted in loss of control.
- Policies of displacement and assimilation (e.g., residential schools and banning of potlatch) deprived Aboriginal peoples of their traditional, social, economic and political powers.
- Aboriginal peoples are now re-establishing control through a process of healing, negotiation and partnership.
MYTH: Aboriginal peoples have a lot of money.
The Facts: Aboriginal individuals have lower incomes and higher dependency rates than others in Canada:
- In 2006, the median income for Aboriginal peoples was $18,962—30% lower than the $27,097 median income for the rest of Canadians. The difference of $8,135 that existed in 2006, however, was marginally smaller than the difference of $9,045 in 2001 or $9,428 in 1996. While income disparity between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canadians narrowed slightly between 1996 and 2006, at this rate it would take 63 years for the gap to be erased.
- Although Aboriginal incomes rise with increased education, even highly educated Aboriginal people still face a considerable income gap relative to non-Aboriginal people.
- Land claim monies foster community economic growth on a long-term basis, however their impact on individual income is minimal. Given the size of the difference between Aboriginal average income and national average income, it will take a long time to eliminate this
MYTH: Aboriginal peoples have everything paid for; they don’t have to pay for their housing, education or medical expenses.
The Facts: Certain services are paid for. What these are, and who they are for, is defined by statute or agreement:
- Registered First Nations peoples have certain services paid for. These are part of the federal government’s statutory obligations as outlined in the Indian Act.
- When a registered First Nations person leaves the community, access to these rights are limited. And as the federal government cuts spending, items admissible under these statutory obligations also diminish.
- The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, now called Indigenous and Northern Affairs, provides certain services to the Inuit through its Indian and Inuit programs. The department funds services for these communities that Canadians receive from their provincial or municipal governments. These services include education, social services and community infrastructure.
- Although until recently the federal government recognized no statutory obligation to Métis people, it provided core funding to Métis representative organizations to advocate and negotiate, with federal and provincial governments, programs and policies that affect its membership (i.e., socio-economic status, health and cultural identity). Some Métis groups also have agreements with provincial governments to provide services (nature of agreements and services vary). In Daniels v. Canada (2016), the Supreme Court of Canada declared that Métis (and non-status Indians) must be considered “Indians” in section 91(24) of the Constitution and thereby fall under federal jurisdiction. These cases did not include remedial action but they open the doors for Métis rights and land claims.
- Outside of the items defined by statute and agreement, Aboriginal peoples pay their own expenses.
MYTH: Aboriginal peoples do not pay taxes.
The Facts: Tax exemption occurs only in confined cases. Aboriginal peoples pay significant amounts of tax every year:
- Inuit and Métis people always pay taxes.
- First Nations peoples without status, and registered First Nations peoples living off-reserve, pay taxes like the rest of the country.
- Registered First Nations peoples working off-reserve pay income tax, regardless of where they reside (even on-reserve).
- Administrative costs incurred by registered First Nations peoples claiming tax exemption for off-reserve purchases under $500 discourage requests for reimbursement. In these cases, most registered First Nations peoples opt to pay the sales tax.
- Registered First Nations peoples are sometimes exempted from paying taxes. Tax exemption is part of the federal government’s statutory obligation as outlined in the Indian Act.
MYTH: Aboriginal peoples cannot interface with, or adapt to, life in the mainstream.
The Facts: Aboriginal peoples have extensive and effective relationships with the rest of Canadian society:
- Aboriginal peoples attend, and graduate from, a wide range of colleges and universities.
- Aboriginal peoples work in all parts of the economy – many in large mainstream industries like mining, forestry, banking, construction, etc.
- Aboriginal businesses form joint ventures (and other business arrangements) with non-Aboriginal businesses.
- Of all self-employed Aboriginal people in Canada, women make up 37% and even 51% of Aboriginal small– and medium-sized enterprises are owned in whole or in part by Aboriginal women;
MYTH: Aboriginal peoples do not have a good work ethic; they have high rates of turnover and absenteeism.
The Facts: Aboriginal peoples are skilled, productive and reliable employees who are valued by their employers:
- Aboriginal peoples participate extensively in work-oriented education and training programs.
- Aboriginal peoples work in all parts of the economy and in many different occupations.
- Aboriginal peoples are valued as stable, reliable employees who contribute in many ways to corporate performance.
- Flexible work arrangements may be established to allow Aboriginal peoples to pursue their traditional ways, the timing of which differs from statutory holidays.
MYTH: There are no qualified Aboriginal peoples to hire.
The Facts: Aboriginal peoples have the education, skills and expertise required for jobs in all economic sectors:
- Almost one-half (48.4%) of Aboriginal people had a postsecondary qualification in 2011, including 14.4% with a trades certificate, 20.6% with a college diploma, 3.5% with a university certificate or diploma below the bachelor level,and 9.8% with a university degree. (In comparison, almost two-thirds (64.7%) of the non-Aboriginal population aged 25 to 64 had a postsecondary qualification in 2011.)
- Aboriginal peoples work in many occupations. They are obtaining qualifications and experience in business/ finance/administration, management, social sciences/ education, natural and applied sciences, and health.
- Many services are available to help employers find qualified Aboriginal employees.
MYTH: Hiring Aboriginal peoples is a form of reverse discrimination.
The Facts: Hiring Aboriginal peoples is part of a strategy to develop a representative workforce:
- A representative workforce strategy means that all groups are represented – those who are part of the majority population as well as those who are in minorities—reflecting the make-up of the country or of the population surrounding work areas.
- Measures to increase Aboriginal workforce participation are not designed to favour one group over another. They are designed to increase access to employment vacancies and promote equitable opportunity for all groups.
- Provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (as well as provincial and territorial statutes) permit employers to take special measures to achieve the equitable representation of Aboriginal peoples and other groups in the workforce.