Searches for ways to empower native Canadians by bringing them into the economic mainstream, restoring property and commercial rights and devising a non-coercive framework for self-government. Frontier’s fifth “Aboriginal Governance Index” ranking the quality of governance on Prairie First Nations was released in 2012.
For the most part, relationships between institutions of government and the communities, families and individuals that form Canada’s population have a predictable consistency. The people are allowed a wide latitude of social and economic expression, and a social safety net has been carefully constructed to assist those who fail to achieve at least a minimal level of sustenance on their own.
In many respects, these arrangements differ for the aboriginal community. The breadth of opportunities available to them are constricted by a unique legal framework that differs significantly from the one that governs the mainstream of Canadian society. The long-term effects of those differences are little understood, but it is plain that they create at least some incentives for behaviour that are negative in their impact.
Weak property rights which undermine security of possession, legal exclusion from systems of commercial credit and the inability of courts to enforce contracts on Indian lands mean that the rewards that other Canadians expect from work and constructive effort may not be available on Indian land. That difference does much to explain why aboriginals in Canada sit at the bottom of the economic ladder.
In addition, the traditional response of social supports is delivered through layers of programs that often fail to reach those most in need. Assistance is indirect, and its ability to ameliorate individual need reduced by high overheads.
In the last thirty years, government spending on aboriginal Canadians has increased by 3000%, yet the data on native incomes and standards of living show little improvement. Many reserves report unemployment rates as high as 90%, and urban natives face rates as high as 50%. Other indicators of social development often associated with entrenched poverty – welfare dependency, involvement with the criminal justice system, family disintegration – also lag when applied to the First Nations.
No other ethnic group reflects this persistent lack of progress. The need for public policy innovations to address these dysfunctions is especially acute because the native population is expanding at faster rate than any other group in Canada.
The Aboriginal Frontiers Project will propose a fresh look at these problems and point out some reforms with the potential to create a stronger economic and social framework for native peoples. By adapting the Indian Act to create wider avenues of opportunity and by making the social supports for natives more effective, we believe there is great potential for improving the lives of Canada’s First Nations.