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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Harsh realities

BY Will Nicholls Jul 19, 2019

According to Statistics Canada data from 2016, one in eight households in Canada struggle to put food on the table. That’s not only a crying shame it’s a promise that was broken by all political parties. Back in 1989, Parliament adopted an all-party resolution to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. It’s been 30 years since that noble goal was declared, but child poverty has not markedly decreased.

While one in seven Canadians live in poverty, around 1.3 million Canadian children – or one in five – do so. It’s even worse if you’re a First Nations status kid – then you have a one in two chance of living in poverty. It’s no wonder that in 2016, more than a third of food bank users across Canada were children. People using food banks have grown by 28% since 2008.

Canada’s a wealthy country with many resources but it doesn’t seem that noble goals such as eliminating child poverty are something that the fat cats in Ottawa care about. And even less so for poor kids on the rez.

A new study issued this month by the Assembly of First Nations and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives documents the astounding fact of child poverty in First Nations communities. In Towards Justice: Tackling Indigenous Child Poverty in Canada, we see that the problem is most acute on the Prairies, where 65% – almost two out of three – Native kids are impoverished.

Meanwhile, the lowest rates among Indigenous groups in Canada are found in Quebec, where Eeyou Istchee has helped the province lower the rate to 29%. In Eeyou Istchee, it’s even lower at 15%, which is well below the overall Canadian average. That’s a remarkable achievement for successive generations of Cree leaders. Still, as the report comments, “Any level of poverty for children is unacceptable.”

Knowing that one in two status kids are living in poverty is more than a harsh reality, it is a milestone on the road of the ongoing discrimination against status First Nations children. From access to nutritious food, quality education and health services, diminished living conditions, and the massive numbers in foster care all show the lack of desire by federal and provincial governments to address these problems. It’s been 19 years since the 2000 deadline for the elimination of child poverty in Canada passed and nothing has really changed in any significant manner.

If you’re wondering why this information hasn’t been available before, then wonder no more. For some obscure reason Statistics Canada hasn’t reported on First Nations children living below the poverty line on reserves because poverty lines aren’t applied to them. First Nations know the trail of broken treaties and promises quite well. They are rooted in the knowledge that while an issue like this will be reported on, it will be forgotten soon enough.

But that will start to change. The signs are there. And let’s not forget that children are poor because their parents are poor. StatsCan reports that between 1980 and 2005 average earnings by Canadians fell by 20%. With five million Canadians living in poverty it is becoming a voting block to consider and that will become a well-deserved harsh reality for politicians. It’s not only the one in seven people living in poverty but their friends and relatives to consider.

Pandering mostly to big business and the wealthy at the expense of children will backfire. Canadians now have access to different forms of communication than they had in the past. You can expect that at some point in the future there will be a similar movement such as the #metoo and #idlenomore but geared towards children. After all, how can anyone with a conscience agree that children going hungry in Canada is acceptable?

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.