Myths and Facts About Aboriginal Peoples

Factsheet

Update: Check out the Idle No More site for information about events in your area.

Introduction

The Government of Canada’s history of colonialism, violence, and residential schools has led to severe inequality between Aboriginal Canadians and non-Aboriginal Canadians. Despite well-documented systemic oppression, many Canadians still blame Aboriginal people for any inequality and go so far as to falsely assign privileges to Aboriginal people that simply do not exist. This document attempts to shed some light on myths about Aboriginal People and the victim-blaming that perpetuates this misinformation. 

 

Myth #1: All Aboriginal people get free education

Aboriginal people do not automatically get free post-secondary education. There is no tuition fee waiver or any other special tuition fee treatment given to First Nations, Inuit, Non-Acknowledged Aboriginals(1), or Métis students.

Instead, the federal government provides financial assistance to First Nations and Inuit students through the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP). This program funds status First Nations and Inuit students to attend post-secondary education. The program is designed to alleviate financial barriers by covering the costs of tuition fees, books, supplies, travel, and living expenses.

The reality is that the program is becoming more and more insufficient with each passing year.

In 1996 funding increases were capped at two percent annually. As a result of this cap, funding has not kept pace with the increasing number of Aboriginal learners, higher-than-average travel costs, increasing living costs, inflation, and annual tuition fee increases.

Prior to the implementation of the funding cap approximately 27,000 Aboriginal students received financial assistance. By 2006, the number had fallen to approximately 22,000. The lack of funding has forced communities administering the funds to make difficult decisions about who receives funding each year. It is estimated that between 2001 and 2006, over 10,500 students were denied funding, with roughly 3,000 more students denied each year. Due to the shortfall in funding, priority is often given to shorter college programs to the detriment of more expensive professional or post- graduate programs of study.

Educational attainment levels among Aboriginal peoples remain significantly lower than the non-Aboriginal population. In 2006, 34% of Aboriginal persons over the age of 25 did not have a high school diploma compared to 15% of the non-Aboriginal population. Only 8% of Aboriginal persons hold a university degree compared to 23% of the non-Aboriginal population. 

 

Myth #2: All Aboriginal people have access to student financial aid

Non-Acknowledged Aboriginals and Métis peoples are not included under federal legislation governing support for Aboriginal peoples. The Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) is not accessible to these students, leaving many without the financial resources necessary to pursue post-secondary education. 

In June 2007, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development recommended that the federal government work with Aboriginal organisations to extend eligibility for INAC’s Post-Secondary Student Support Program to non-acknowledged Aboriginal students. 

 

Myth #3:  Métis, Inuit, Status, and Non-Acknowledged peoples are all the same and receive as many benefits

Métis, Inuit, Status, and Non-Acknowledged peoples are not all the same. Métis people self-identify as having an ancestral connection to a historic Métis community; and are accepted by a Métis community. The Métis people emerged from the union of European men and Aboriginal women during the North American Fur trade. While they are considered “Aboriginal peoples of Canada” within the meaning of s35 of the Constitution Act 1982 they do not receive the same benefits as Status and Inuit peoples, and are excluded from the Post Secondary Student Support Program. 

Inuit People are the Aboriginal people from the Arctic. They are also recognized in the Canadian Constitution. “Inuit” means, “people” in their language of Inuktitut (2). They have exclusive rights to about 350,000 square kilometers with mineral rights. They also retain the rights to hunt, fish, and trap throughout Nunavut. They are included in the Indian Act and are able to access funding through the Post Secondary Student Support Program. 

“Non-status Indians”(3) commonly refers to people who identify themselves of Aboriginal descent, but are not entitled to registration on the Indian Register according to the Indian Act, although some may be members of a First Nation. The definition of “Indian” tends to be narrow and various amendments to the Indian Act created a large population of Aboriginal people without Indian status, or the rights and entitlements that are attached to it. The population of non-acknowledged Aboriginals is larger than determined and also includes people of Aboriginal ancestry and culture who were never entitled to register in 1876, as well as Aboriginal people entitled to register but who chose not to submit themselves to government control (4). They do not receive the same benefits as Status and Inuit peoples, nor do they have access to the PSSSP.

A “Status Indian” refers to a person recorded as an Indian in the Indian Register and holds an identity card issued by the federal government. Status Indians receive land and hunting rights as well have access to the PSSSP program. 

 

Myth #4: Aboriginal People do not pay taxes 

All First Nations, Inuit, Non-Acknowledged Aboriginals, and Métis people pay taxes. Status Indians who earn income on reserve for a company or organization that is also located on the reserve are exempt from paying federal and provincial income tax. This is part of their treaty rights in exchange for the land that was given up. Although, registered Indians who earn income off reserve must pay income tax. In British Columbia, Status Indians and bands do not pay provincial sales tax or the Goods & Services Tax on goods when those goods are delivered to the reserve. Fuel and tobacco sales on reserve are also exempt from the provincial fuel and tobacco tax. It is important to note that there are similar tax exemptions provided to different organizations or educational institutions and many low-income Canadians receive a GST rebate. (5) 

 

Myth #5: Aboriginal People get special rights and privileges in Canada

Aboriginal people receive fundamental benefits (such as Child Tax, Old Age Security, etc) like all other Canadians. 

Constitutionally-protected Aboriginal rights such as hunting and fishing for sustenance, is available for Status, non-acknowledged, and Inuit peoples.

Treaties that are signed with First Nations provide specific benefits in exchange for land. The land that was ceded has allowed Canada and its new population to flourish. Under the treaties, First Nations have access to reserve lands, hunting and fishing rights on traditional lands, and receive annuities, depending on the outlines of treaty. In many cases, Canadian governments have not honoured the terms of treaties. 

The federal government does provide some housing, but many Aboriginal people living on reserve or in urban centers live in substandard and crowded housing. Post-secondary funding for Aboriginal people is also available; however, federal funding for post-secondary has not increased with the needs of the Aboriginal youth population, which is one of the fastest growing demographics in Canada.

 

Myth #6: Targeting Aboriginal people for hiring is reverse discrimination

Hiring diverse people ensures different perspectives from different communities which in turn provides different successes and outcomes. Having more Aboriginal people in the work place contributes positively to Canadian Society and provides opportunity for Aboriginal people to be a part of Canada’s economy. Reversing the effects of discrimination in the workplace and society is the goal, not reverse discrimination. (6)

 

Conclusion

Everyone in society has a role to play in busting myths about Aboriginal Peoples. Challenging bigoted thinking, remarks, and attitudes, as well as circulating the facts, will help break down the barriers of inequality.

 

NOTES 

(1) More commonly referred to as “Non-Status”, the term Non-Acknowledged is used to replace the Indian Act’s government-invented identity framework.

(2) Alan D. McMillan and Eldon Yellowhorn, First Peoples in Canada, (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2004), 262.

(3) This factsheet uses the term “Non-Acknowledged” (see footnote #1).

(4) “Terminology Definitions” Indigenous Nationhood 

(5) “Debunking the Myths about Aboriginal Peoples: A Guide for CUPE Members” Canadian Union of Public Employees 

(5) “Debunking the Myths about Aboriginal Peoples: A Guide for CUPE Members” CUPE 

(6) IBID