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New Study Lays Bare 'Crushing Levels of Poverty' Indigenous Children in Canada Live In

Indigenous children are more than twice as likely than non-Indigenous children to live in poverty in Canada, according to a new study that shows First Nations children living on reserve continue to be worse off than any other group.
A woman and boy walk in Attawapiskat, a northern Ontario reserve. Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Indigenous children are more than twice as likely than non-Indigenous children to live in poverty in Canada.

Those are the troubling, and well-documented, findings of a new study released on Tuesday that compares numbers from 2011 to those of 2006. Little has changed, according to the figures, which show that First Nations children living on reserve continue to be worse off than any other group, and their conditions have only gotten more dire.

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The study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives comes amid renewed attention on suicides plaguing Indigenous communities, following a declared state of emergency in the remote northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat, which over 11 attempts in one day.

It's difficult to see high suicide rates, particularly among youth, on Indigenous reserves separately from the "crushing poverty" found on them, according to a co-author of the study, who hopes the numbers will empower First Nations governments and those who advocate on behalf of Indigenous children to make their case to the federal government.

The study titled Shameful Neglect: Indigenous Child Poverty in Canada, which takes into account data on reserves and territories from the 2011 National Household Survey, breaks down child poverty statistics into three tiers.

Related: After the Deaths of Two Teenage Girls, This Aboriginal Community Says the System Failed Them

The researchers found that 51 percent of First Nations children live in poverty. For those on reserve, that number is 60 percent, rising from 56 percent, as per the 2006 census.

Non-status First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children see poverty rates of 30 percent, 25 percent, and 23 percent respectively, sitting between children of immigrants (32 percent) and racialized children (22 percent).

Non-indigenous, non-racialized, and non-immigrant children, meanwhile, see a child poverty rate of 13 percent.

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For First Nations children on reserve, poverty rates are highest in Manitoba (76 percent) and Saskatchewan (69 percent), and lowest in Quebec (37 percent). In Ontario, the on-reserve rate is 48 percent.

Charlie Angus summed up the reality for Indigenous children living in "crushing levels of poverty" as "appalling."

"When you go into the northern communities, you see the fact that an entire people, an entire generation has been left on the scrap heap by Canada," Angus, who represents the region that includes Attawapiskat in the Ontario legislature, told CTV on Tuesday.

"You can look at this either from a moral frame, of what kind of country disregards the potential of so many people. Or you could even look at it from an economic point of view, to squander the potential and hope of so many people. These are numbers you wouldn't see anywhere, except in perhaps the most impoverished third world countries."

Study co-author Daniel Wilson notes that in researching poverty, the government has never included First Nations reserves or territories "where some of the worst poverty in Canada exists, giving the false impression of what is actually happening with child poverty in Canada."

The higher rates among children on reserves, said Wilson, can be attributed to policies of the past two decades, like a two-percent cap to budget increases for First Nations, first introduced by the Liberal government in 1996.

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11% increase in INAC budget would relieve worst of child poverty on reserves so do it! Kids only have one childhood — Cindy Blackstock (@cblackst)May 17, 2016

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has eliminated the cap in the new budget, which allocated $8.4 billion in new spending for aboriginal issues, including education, water on reserves, as well as child and family services.

"The most recent budget did finally break that trend but the figures that [the government is ] promising over the next 5 years only go a small part of the way to recouping the losses that [Indigenous communities] have experienced over the last 20 years," Wilson said, citing issues like mould and overcrowded housing, boiled water advisories in over 100 communities, and schools without facilities like gymnasiums and science labs, as barriers to children's success.

"When you add on the fact that the income those families have keeps those children in poverty as well, you start to understand why there's a feeling of hopelessness, why social ills like the high level of suicide are occurring."

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day says "realistic investments" are key — "not just looking at putting certain investments in the area of employment," he told the CBC.

"We also need to recognize social determinants of health and issues that contribute to the grinding impacts of poverty that need to be addressed — like housing, water and transportation," said Day.

The researchers are calling on the government to start reporting poverty rates on reserves and in territories, improve direct income support, improve employment prospects, and begin implementing longer-term solutions.

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk