The face of Canada is changing. This is especially apparent in Canada’s urban centres and in the dry but stark reality of reports from Statistics Canada, which reveal an aging population that is having fewer children and must look to immigration to replenish its store of workers.
Meanwhile, the statistics point to a different reality in First Nations communities across the nation: fifty percent of the First Nations’ population is 25 years old or less. In provinces like Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario, there is therefore a large and thriving population of aboriginal youth poised to become workers in the decades to come. This is a reality I am well acquainted with. I come from Six Nations of the Grand River territory, in Southern Ontario, which has a growing and youthful population.
Unfortunately, we cannot assume that these young people are in line for the available jobs. In fact, First Nations communities struggle to find meaningful employment for our young people. The aftermath of colonization and residential schools maintains a barrier to full participation in Canadian society by Aboriginal people. Historical inequities in access to education, job training, successful internships and jobs mean that aboriginal people remain at the bottom of the employment pile. In fact, many employers are hard-pressed to recruit Aboriginal workers to fulfill even government-mandated employment equity requirements.
I have always been keenly aware that I am an exception when considering the stark economic reality for most Aboriginal people in this country. The median income in 2006 was $16,895, versus $29,636 for non-Aboriginal people. Far more Aboriginal people live in abject poverty than do other Canadians and access to clean drinking water, safe housing, and education still remains out of reach, particularly in the North.
Obviously, a key way to address these gaps is meaningful employment for Aboriginal people in all sectors of the economy. But this will require a concerted effort on all sides.
This is a challenge for employers, who will soon have to look beyond their usual pool of workers to sustain their employment rosters, and for unions, who will need to replenish their ranks of activists and leaders. Employers and unions should be working actively with First Nations communities to make sure that young First Nations workers are ready and able to enter the workforce and that workplaces are ready and able to embrace them.
The other reason to promote equity for Aboriginal peoples is for more intangible benefits. A modern, diverse and just society– the very things that Canada prides itself on being– cannot be a reality until all people enjoy its opportunities. This, for me, is at the heart of why I have devoted my union work to promoting equity. Aboriginal values ARE Guild values– collective action, justice for all members, and the pursuit of fair and equitable contracts– all of these are core values shared by Aboriginal communities. By striving for employment equity and workplaces that reflect the true population of Canada, we strengthen our union and exemplify the best of this country’s traditions.
Promoting equity and equal opportunities for Aboriginal workers, workers of colour, workers with disabilities, and gay, lesbian, transgendered workers is a priority for your union, and I am honoured to work with all members towards a truly inclusive Guild.
Terri Monture is a staff representative with the CMG.