Over this past decade, the Canadian government has made great improvements into bettering the lives of Aboriginals by working to provide them with an equal amount of opportunities as the rest of the Canadian population, however, the case of discrimination and prejudice towards the Aboriginal communities by Canadian institutions such as: hospitals, schools, employers, and the government itself is still considered as a big problem. This paper will argue that; as a result of the discrimination and prejudice by Canadian institutions there is a widening and persisting gap between the Aboriginals of Canada and the rest of the Canadian population in terms of quality of life. In order to argue this claim, this paper will focus on three main social institutions of Canadian society; schools, workplace, health centres and its effect on the growing gap between Aboriginals and the rest of the Canadian population’s quality of life.
Residential schools were implemented in the late 1800’s and lasted to the late 1900’s, it was a form of assimilating the Aboriginals of Canada and was seen as a way to: “kill the Indian in the child” as well as “cultural genocide”. The strategy of residential schools was a way for those that were in charge at the time to try to Westernize the young Aboriginals, however, it resulted in abuse of the children at the schools and sometimes even deaths. The survivors of the residential schools were subjects of: sexual, emotional, physical, mental, spiritual and cultural abuse. In our present society, Aboriginals are welcome to attend an on-reserve school or a provincial school in that region, however, due to the majority of Aboriginal families being in the lower-class of Canadian society (in terms of income) the majority of them cannot affordability to live in urban cities or rural areas therefore making the on-reserve school the best choice. Although we have made great strides in improving learning conditions of those that attend on-reserve schools as well as providing them with the necessary resources by increasing the amount of funds provided to them, if we compare the provincial schools with the on-reserve schools, the on-reserve schools are receiving a quarter of the funds provincial schools receive this is a result of the outdated ‘Band Operated Funding Formula’ also known as (BOFF). The BOFF was created in 1987 and does not include: “essential education components such as technology, First Nation’s language immersion, sports and recreation, student data management systems or libraries” the “funding for First Nations schools have also been subject to a 2% cap on annual expenditure increases since the mid 1990’s.” ³ When compared to a provincial school; things like libraries, sports and recreations and student data management are usually expected whereas, for a First Nations school it is considered to be a ‘luxury’, facts and numbers like these are not helpful in closing the gap when knowing that the Aboriginal youth is the fastest growing demographic in Canada (grew 3.5 faster than the non-Aboriginal in 2006). The social institution of a School is vital in one’s growth in today’s modern society as it is needed to obtain a good profession which in return can help improve the quality of life one lives as well as the quality of life one’s family can live however, in order to be able to provide Aboriginals with the opportunity to be more socially mobile, we need to better their learning environments as in the past decade, over 74% of First Nations schools needed to be repaired as they had: ‘minimal space, plumbing and sewage issues, electrical, roofing, building code issues and structural and foundation issues’. There is no reason for these schools to have issues like these when the rest of the Canadian youth are learning in safe environments and are provided with all of the necessities needed for students to excel in school.
In the past, the Canadian government did not recognize and refused to recognize the Aboriginals as Canadian citizens which led to a result of Aboriginals being denied access to health care. Aboriginals have now been given access to health-care and are allowed to go to any hospital or medical clinic to get the help that they need, however, there has been a growing rate Aboriginals being denied access to proper health care due to their status and appearance. The Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study (also known as UAPS) surveyed across 11 Canadian cities regarding the matter of discrimination in health care institutions; “of the Aboriginals participants, 43% reported poor treatment as a result of racism and discrimination, and 18% reported negative experiences of racism and discrimination resulting in shame, lower-self esteem, or self-confidence, or the hiding of one’s Aboriginal identity”. These figures provide proof that discrimination and racism is a major factor in Aboriginal health disparities in our current society, if for example, we were to survey non-Aboriginal Canadians regarding the matter of racism when receiving proper healthcare, the chances of them experiencing anything of the sort are slim to none. Canadian health care workers tend to stereotype Aboriginals seeking help as drug addicts looking for an easy access to prescription medication, this type of judgement leads to a change in treatment by the health care workers even before they know what the real problem with the patient is an example of this type of judgement can be found in the story of Brian Lloyd Sinclair; “Brian Sinclair was a 45 year old indigenous man who died after a 34 hour wait in the emergency room of the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre in 2008. He was referred to the ER by a community physician for a bladder infection, which the Chief Medical Examiner of Manitoba has suggested would have required approximately a half hour of care to clear his blocked catheter and to prescribe antibiotic treatment. Instead, Mr. Sinclair died slowly and unnecessarily of bladder infection in the waiting room of the ER without ever receiving treatment, despite vomiting several times on himself, and despite pleas from other ER visitors for nurses and security guards to attend to him” , Mr Sinclair was a double amputee, who lost both of his legs due to frostbite. By piecing this story together we can see what the doctors and nurses of the health centre saw and thought; a disabled First Nations man throwing up in an ER waiting room, to them this may have just been another substance abusing Aboriginal who would be a waste of their time, however, this was a prime example of how judgement and a generalization resulted in the death of someone, a death that could have been easily preventable in a 30 minute procedure. The Canadian government has tried to prevent these types of situations taking place in the future by increasing the number of Aboriginal health care workers as well as providing a “cultural safety” training program for non-Aboriginal health workers. The Non-Insured Health Benefits is a program supported by the federal government via the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch that is only available to status First Nations and Inuit peoples. This health benefits program provides those that fit their criteria with the necessary procedures and medications needed, however, it is flawed in terms of the amount of power given the the NIHB; “when Non-Insured calls you, you’re expected to travel from your house, leave your job, leave your kids, leave your husband, and come out to this appointment within hours or the next day. And if you can’t make it out, you get penalized for missing that flight”. If we compare the policies of the NIHB to a non-Aboriginal in which they have the ability to book an appointment suitable to their time slot and also have the luxury to cancel their appointment without getting ‘penalized’, we can see that the NIHB is truly on the verge of, if not already violating people’s rights. Although the gap between the treatment of health for non-Aboriginals and Aboriginals is decreasing, there is still too much discrimination taking place that is causing the decrease rate of health disparities in Aboriginal communities to become slower.
Although it is illegal to be discriminatory while hiring a potential employee, many employers will not hire someone who is Aboriginal when looking for new employees, Canada’s capitalist economy can be to blame as well as internal colonialism, as it a big contributor to our socio-economic inequality. The reasoning for the lack of employers to hire an Aboriginal looking for a job is due to the fact that Aboriginals are the most likely to lack even a high school certificate (37.8%), as I have stated earlier, in our current society it is vital for not only Aboriginals but for anyone looking to obtain a well paying profession in the future to receive an education and to graduate with documentation of that education. Due to a growing number of cases of discrimination against Aboriginals looking for work in our current society, many Aboriginals are worried regarding whether they should disclose their Aboriginal status to potential employers, the government’s Employment Equity Act makes it so that it is one’s own choice as to whether they want to disclose their Aboriginal status or not.
To put everything into perspective; “On-reserve Aboriginal persons experience by far the largest earnings gap, being 50.0 % for males and 34.2 % for females when compared to their non-Aboriginal counterpart”, on-reserve Aboriginals tend to be of younger age and have a lower level of education, this explains the reasoning as to why the majority of those that are on reserve tend to work in jobs that are associated with lower earnings, however, a more disturbing fact is one that shows: “Aboriginal persons are falling behind even the disadvantage non-Aboriginal persons at the bottom of the distribution”. Over the past decade the gap of of earnings between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals has both decreased and increased creating very inconsistent patterns, this is a result of those that are Aboriginal and have had an education earning more over the years compared to those that live on-reserve earning less and less even more so than those that are non-Aboriginal and disadvantaged. The discrimination of an Aboriginal when it comes to jobs and professions are usually against those that are off-reserve that have obtained an education because these are the members of the Aboriginal communities that have the necessary education requirements that are sought after by most well paying jobs and professions which in return, leads to many employers to start generalizing and judging the Aboriginal person even though they have the necessary requirements,on the other hand, the on-reserve Aboriginals are subject to less discrimination due to the fact that they have less educational background and are working in lower paying jobs that have slim to none educational requirements (eg. fast food worker or janitors) because they do not have the required pre-requisites to apply for a higher paying or ‘white-collar job’.
The Canadian government has done a lot to try to better the lives of Aboriginals living both on and off the reserves, they’ve made an increase in funds for their schools, created new training programs for health care workers with the main goal of bettering their treatment of Aboriginals in our society, made discrimination illegal in our society, and created the Employment Equity Act which states that a firm or organization must have a balance of woman, disabled, and minority groups. The government has also paid compensation money with their apologizes to the survivors of the residential schools, all in all, the Canadian government has done a lot to improve the lives of Aboriginals in Canada and to give them a better chance at being more socially mobile, however, these tactics implemented by the government will fail if heads of our social institutions such as; the CEO, the doctors and nurses, the teachers and universities continue to discriminate the Aboriginals and treat them like second-class citizens. The gap between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals is widening and persisting, the main problem now does not lie with the lack of action by the Government, but the lack of judgement by our social institutions that has caused the majority of Aboriginal youth to believe in this stigma created by our society which continues to send them on a downwards spiral, therefore, I believe that the sooner we get rid of the majority of the racism, discrimination, and prejudice, the sooner this gap closes.