Why Money is not the Solution for Canada’s Indigenous People.

Written by, Gill Tataev founder of Ruthless Giving.

UN human rights reports that Canada is failing indigenous people. Violation of human right is popular within developing countries like South Sudan, Eritrea and North Korea, but Canada? This article is not about whether Canada is acting on these accusations, but rather on how the actions are being implemented and if we need to course correct. While money is typically needed to help governments fix social justice issues, it’s not always the only answer. Despite the billions of dollars of government funding that have been designated to improve the lives of Indigenous and Aboriginal groups in Canada, the policies have failed for generations in creating positive economic, social, and quality-of-life outcomes.

The statistics tell the story:

• Poverty: While Canada’s national child poverty rate is 15 percent, 40 percent of Indigenous children live in poverty. The rate rises to 50 percent on First Nations Reserves.

• Unemployment: Even pre-COVID, 25 percent of First Nations’ people on reserves were unemployed.

• Government support: Before COVID, 54 percent of First Nations’ people were dependent on government transfers as their primary source of financial support.

• Education: While 90 percent of non-Indigenous people ages 20 to 24 received a high school diploma, that number drops to only 42 percent of Indigenous people.

• Health: A 2005 report determined that infant mortality was three times the rate for Aboriginal children. Suicide rates were six times higher among Aboriginal people, and the average life expectancy was 10 years less than non-Aboriginal people.

All of these issues combined lead to battles with drug addiction, crime, and suicides.

The Bigger Issue

While the Canadian government has repeatedly thrown more funding towards the problem, very little has been actually done to improve the situation over the past 150 years. The issue is that no amount of money alone will fix the root of the multi-tiered puzzle, which began when Colonial Canada passed the Indian Act back in 1876. The purpose of the Indian Act was primarily to force First Nations’ people to let go of their own culture and become like Euro-Canadians.

It’s easy to become critical with the amount of government spending for indigenous communities, but that frustration — which too often turns to discrimination — is actually a huge contributor to the problem. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be approached differently. Rather than judge the amount of funding, or judge the indigenous communities, it’s the policies that need to change. When something does not work, it’s time to try something new.

One Example of Canada’s Broken Indigenous Policies.

Let’s take for example, education. In 2011, a Senate report declared that the federal government’s role needed to go beyond funding the First Nations’ educational services, and work with them “hand in glove” to “build their educational capacity and institutions so that they are able to deliver an effective educational program to their students, comparable to provincial and territorial offerings.”

Historically, First Nations’ schools worked independently with small groups of students and had a continuous flux in teaching staff. Many did not teach the necessary programs required for future college admissions.

While a lack of funding for on-reservation schools has continuously been considered a problem contributing to the education disparity, it’s not the only issue affecting the high numbers of students who drop out. For example, data from Rocky View Schools, which is Alberta’s fifth largest school board, found that 30 percent of Indigenous students within the district were considered chronically absent during the 2017–18 year. The absenteeism number increased to 80 percent for those students who lived on a reservation but attended the off-reservation school.

How Do We Fix Canada’s Indigenous Policy Problem?

That, unfortunately, is the still the multi-billion dollar question. However, what is known is that simply adding more funding is not the answer.

As the common saying goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

The Indigenous and Aboriginal policy problem is a prime example that more money is not always the best answer. If a program is not working, it should be abandoned — not given more money in hopes that something changes.

Instead, the government should be actively working with organizations who research and study these communities to better understand their problems and their cultures. They should be testing new programs and exploring the behavioral economics of similar communities around the world. And most of all, they should be working with the leaders of these communities and teaching them how to become self-sufficient — but in ways that the community itself designs — rather than trying to micromanage from afar.

Unless indigenous people are given greater control over their lives and their futures, no amount of additional funding will make an impact.

This article is sponsored by People’s Foundation.


1Eisler, Dale. The grim reality of Canada’s biggest policy failure. 16 February 2018. <https://www.schoolofpublicpolicy.sk.ca/research/publications/policy-brief/the-grim-reality-of-canadas-biggest-policy-failure.php>.

2The Indian Act. 2009. <https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_indian_act/>.

3 Leach, Tamara Krawchenko and Dawn Madahbee. How Canadian policies can enable Indigenous economic development. 11 June 2020. <https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/june-2020/how-canadian-policies-can-enable-indigenous-economic-development/>.

4Gouldhawke, Mike. The Failure of Federal Indigenous Healthcare Policy in Canada. 4 February 2021. <https://www.nourishhealthcare.ca/resources-1/2021/4/20/the-failure-of-federal-indigenous-healthcare-policy-in-canada>.

6Khan, Ahmar. Canada’s School Systems Are Failing to Address Colonial Past: Educators. 1 February 2021 <https://globalnews.ca/news/7607422/school-history-education-60s-scoop-indigenious/




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Ruthless Giving is a non profit organization that explores giving opportunities and promotes effective giving practices.

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