Regardless of how you feel about the way aboriginal people have been recently expressing their concerns and frustrations, there does seem to be an undeniable reality.
In Saskatchewan where the economy has been moving forward for a decade now, aboriginal people are headed in the opposite direction.
Or so seems to be the conclusion of a study on the gap in aboriginal education and employment in our province, conducted by University of Saskatchewan economic professor Eric Howe.
And according to the university professor, the consequences of this could be quite bad.
“By the middle of this century, Saskatchewan is going to be majority aboriginal,” Howe said. “If the gap between education and the gap between employment aren’t addressed, then they will result in social upheaval on a level that has not been seen in Saskatchewan since the Great Depression.”
The reason? Even during this economic boom, Saskatchewan is not doing a very good job of finding work for its aboriginal people.
Take 2009 when one out of every four aboriginal persons that was employed in January of that year was unemployed by December — what Howe called a “disaster for First Nations employment.”
“If a quarter of (all working) people had lost their jobs, we probably would have had the Regina Riot,” said Howe, noting that the loss job rate in the aboriginal community would be equivalent to the province shedding a 100,000 jobs in a single year.
And while the loss of aboriginal jobs isn’t quite as severe as 2009, there were still 400 less aboriginal people working in Saskatchewan in 2012 than there was in 2011.
The university professor cited the government’s abandonment of specific aboriginal employment programs as part of the problem. Another possible part of the equation was the increase in immigration through the province’s immigrant nominee program that resulted in increase in unskilled workers.
Of course, there will be those less sympathetic with the notion of new immigrants eagerly taking jobs that might have once went to aboriginals.
And as an economics professor grounded in the reality of business, Howe understands the rationale.
“Would an employer rather hire a person who’s family has been on the welfare cycle for two or three generations?” Howe asked. “Or are employers more inclined to hire someone whose wages in another country were far less?”
But the head of economics at the U.S. believes employers, the public and the government aren’t grasping how big problem this problem truly ... or even how badly Saskatchewan is doing when compared with other jurisdictions.
For example, Saskatchewan is doing the worst job of educating First Nation people of any province west of the Maritimes. In 1996, 65.7 per cent of aboriginal people between 15 and 69 had a high school diploma, Howe noted. By 2006, that figure for that age group had fallen to 55.8 per cent. In a society where more education is need, that is not good news for the ability of aboriginal people to find jobs.
Moreover, Saskatchewan has the worst record of employing aboriginal people in Western Canada. Even Manitoba, that hasn’t enjoyed a resource boom, has been hiring more.
And if Saskatchewan’s aboriginal employment could simply catch up the level of Alberta and Manitoba, it would add $6.7 to provincial GDP.
It’s also here when Howe begins to successful challenge the notion that the problem can be chalked up to an unwillingness of Saskatchewan aboriginal people to work. The question becomes, “why are they less lazy” in Manitoba and Alberta? Howe asked.
It may be that other jurisdictions have been more slightly more dedicated to putting aboriginal people on the path towards finding jobs.
Saskatchewan needs to be similarly committed.
Regardless of how anyone feels about this issue, it is a problem desperately in need of addressing.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.