Half of Indigenous children live in poverty, above national rate, study says

Toronto Star
July 9, 2019
By Jordan Press

OTTAWA—The worst child-poverty problem in the country was dropped in the laps of the country’s premiers on Tuesday, as the Assembly of First Nations presented them with new numbers to show about half of Indigenous children live in poverty — just as they did a decade ago.

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde used the study, written by researchers at the AFN and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, to underscore the need for governments to invest in First Nations communities as the country’s premiers gathered in Saskatchewan for an annual meeting.

What the premiers were told is that overall, 47 per cent of First Nations children live in poverty, more than two-and-a-half times the national rate.

That figure rises to 53 per cent when looking at First Nations children living on reserves, or four times the rate for white children.

“Canada is not tracking First Nations poverty on-reserve so we did,” Bellegarde said. “Our children face the worst social and economic conditions in the country. They deserve an opportunity to succeed.”

Official poverty statistics don’t examine the situations on reserves except during census counts. Not tracking these figures, the study says, may muddle the statistics nationwide — particularly when the Liberals have linked historic reductions in child poverty to their policies since coming to office in 2015.

Compounding the issue is that the Liberals’ newly adopted national poverty line, which is used to track the effectiveness of the government’s poverty-reduction plan, isn’t calculated on reserves — an issue the AFN has raised with the government.

So the researchers did the calculations themselves with help from the statistics office.

Poring over data from the 2006 and 2016 census counts, the researchers found that poverty rates barely budged downward for most Indigenous communities. At the same time, the number of children on reserves stayed stagnant, so it’s not a matter of growing populations outstripping social programs and economic growth.

The 2016 census showed the Indigenous population had an average age nearly a decade younger and a higher fertility rate than the non-Indigenous population. Daniel Wilson, one of the authors of the report, said that young, growing cohort will face new challenges as they age unless the poverty situation changes now.

“What we’re looking at is 10 to 15 years from now, people entering the workforce with all of the disadvantages that poverty brings — in terms of health, in terms of mental clarity and acuity, in terms of opportunity, especially,” said Wilson, a non-status Mi’kmaq and special adviser to the AFN.

“They’ll be carrying all of those disadvantages … and will have that much more to overcome as a significant part of the emerging labour force.”

There were, however, some exceptions. On-reserve child-poverty rates in Quebec, for instance, were the lowest in the country in 2016, largely as a result of agreements with First Nations governments to share revenues from natural resources.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault told reporters before meeting with Bellegarde that education is key to keeping poverty rates low.

“It’s important to make arrangements in order that they get all the support they need for education and as young as possible because the drop-out rates are … too high,” he said.

Several cities have also seen drops in Indigenous child-poverty rates, including Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Edmonton, even though overall they still remain well above the national average.

The study suggests that the high rates of poverty on reserves may be driving young people to cities — a place where Indigenous Peoples are over-represented among the homeless population.

Affordable-housing advocates on Tuesday called on federal parties to commit to closing gaps in the Liberals’ decade-long national housing strategy, specifically for urban and rural Indigenous people, for whom the child-poverty rate is 41 per cent, according to the study.

In a report last month, the parliamentary budget office said that federal funding for off-reserve Indigenous households over the next 10 years amounted to half of what had been provided in the previous decade.

“Clearly this is a gap that needs to be filled by the parties in their election platforms and whomever forms the next government,” said Jeff Morrison, executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.


Community Highlight – A Scarborough Rose

Scarborough is a unique community, defined by a plethora of cultural backgrounds working in unison to continuously grow, evolve and redefine Toronto’s urban landscape.

Scarborough is known for its many cultural communities from diverse backgrounds who all add to the unique tapestry that makes up Toronto’s eastern borough. This tapestry is not without its holes. Courtney Fisher, founder of the Scarborough Rosewood Food Drive, and his team of volunteers recognized one of these holes, food security, and took it upon themselves to stitch it back together for our future  generations.

This is Courtney’s story.

For many newcomers, the move to Canada means safety and security; it means the pursuit to a higher standard of living and education. Though the benefits are clear, many newcomers come to Canada without any connections, family or friends. Scarborough is a magnetic fit for many of these individuals for its diverse communities, reminding them of what was once home.

As many of us, our parents or grandparents can attest to, moving to Canada meant the opportunity to pursue a higher standard of living and education. Born in Jamaica, Courtney came to Scarborough from the United States in 1982.

As Courtney says, “My motivations for leaving were no different from those who came before me, with me and [those who] continue to arrive”.

From the very beginning, Courtney has been active within his community. He partners with various community organizations, like The Tutor Group, The Center for Achievement, the Black Action Defence Committee (BAD-C), and as President of the Rosewood Taxpayers Association (RTA), to only name a few of a long list.

When asked about the driving force that motivates his work, Courtney reflects on witnessing abject poverty as a child in Jamaica (See “Who We Are–Founder” at
scarboroughrosewoodfd.wordpress.com). He knows that the events he witnessed, and some of his own experiences with moderate poverty, is still as relevant today as his yesteryears.

Courtney’s most recent achievement is developing the Scarborough Rosewood Food Drive (SRFD) with other neighbourhood volunteers. This has become his primary focus, stating, “In what area can a person do the greatest good? – Food security.”

The Scarborough Rosewood Food Drive (SRFD) is a testament of this, with the mission

“To combat hunger and poverty with food donations, education and action”.

Courtney sees a growing movement of local residents and organizations pushing for fresh, culturally appropriate food access in Scarborough. More than ever, people are getting involved through donations or volunteering, working together to shift the narrative that defines poverty and food insecurity across the city.

Despite every success, Courtney finds it difficult for grassroots organizations to capture the attention of mainstream media and broadcast the message of equality. Courtney knows that the changes so dearly needed in Scarborough will only come to fruition through political action and not just the effort of non-profit organizations. To overcome these barriers, Courtney speaks of the importance of networking. Without networking, marginalized communities will remain just that: marginalized.

“social stagnation and inequalities are the price we pay for youthful inaction”.

Each volunteer that rolls up their sleeves plays an intrinsic part in the activation of SRFD’s mission but it is the youth that Courtney believes are “the arch of social change and social justice”. He knows that by enabling our youth that SRFD’s mission will continue into the future to create even more positive change.

Next on the agenda: to become designated as a charitable organization to provide the legal boost needed to grow the movement.

We, at Malvern ANC and the Malvern Food Security Workgroup would like to thank Courtney Fisher for all the great work you continue to do in our neighbouring Scarborough-Rosewood community.

Courtney has shown us all that no obstacle is too big to tackle and though we are just one facet of a larger picture, we can all make a change. By engaging with others around us and not turning a blind eye to the larger issues around us, we can help the community at-large. Through planning, activation and a passion for compassion, Courtney has taught us to be bigger than the problems that disparage our neighbourhoods; we are the solution.

Thank you, Courtney! We wish you and your team all the best for the future!
Like this story? Follow us on Facebook @ANCMalvern  (https://www.facebook.com/ANCMalvern/) for community events and more community stories.

Edited by: Jonathan Chan-Choong; Littles Community Garden Communication Coordinator & Freelance Writer.

Make a Difference by Meeting a Need

Donate to and/or volunteer with one of Scarborough’s fastest growing non-profit
organizations—Scarborough Rosewood Food Drive–a 2017 Urban Hero Nominee.

Beginning Wednesday, September 6, every Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday  through to Sunday, October 29, Scarborough Rosewood Food Drive Inc. (SRFD) will execute its annual fall door-to-door food drive.

This year’s fall drive takes place in municipal ward 41 (bordered by Hwy 401, Midland Ave, Steeles Ave. E and Markham Road in Scarborough).

This year, make SRFD your choice for community engagement; make a difference by meeting a need.

Food items donated to SRFD are made available to the following Scarborough food banks:
– Agincourt Community Services Association
– Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities
– Juliette’s Place
– Malvern Healthy Community Cupboard
– St. Ninian Anglican Church (food bank)
– Philadelphia Seventh-Day Adventist food bank aka Staff of Life food bank

Second Annual Spring Food Drive Begins!

Scarborough Rosewood Food Drive Inc. (SRFD) is happy to announce the beginning of its second door-to-door spring food drive. As we are continuing to expand the residential communities canvassed for food, this food drive will last 8 weeks.

Starting April 26, the Drive will run every Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday until June 11.

Just as a reminder, we accept foods that are:

  • Non-Perishable (canned food, pasta, noodles, etc)
  • Non-expired

Food donations are distributed to food banks in the Scarborough area:

  • Dorset Hub
  • Scarborough Centre for Health Communities
  • 1LoveMalvern
  • Juliette’s Place

SRFD also accepts financial donations that help fund its annual door-to-door food drives. Thank you to the great and generous residents of Scarborough for your volunteerism and kind donations!

Volunteer with upcoming Spring Food Drive!

Amy Li of Scarborough Rosewood Food Drive (above) shares some important information on the role of SRFD in fighting hunger and poverty across the Scarborough region of Toronto.

Amy was one of SRFD’s volunteers at a recent Volunteer Fair hosted by Volunteer Toronto at the Toronto reference Library, Toronto.

Join Amy and other volunteers in SRFD’s spring 2017 door-to-door food drive.

The Drive begins on April 26 and continues every Wednesday, Thursday (5:00 pm-7:00pm), Saturday and Sunday(2:45 pm-7:00pm) until June 11.

Join Amy and the SRFD team and make a difference in the lives of others.