Leaving reserves for education, higher pay and better housing could be the key to success for First Nations people, a new research paper says.
“While off-reserve aboriginals still experience many troubling problems, they are better positioned to integrate into non-aboriginal society and succeed,” the paper’s author, Joseph Quesnel, wrote. “It is also important to note that moving to urban centres does not necessarily lead to a loss of culture or ties to traditional communities, although language presents a problem.”
The paper, based on a study titled Indigenous Well-being In Four Countries, was released Thursday by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Winnipeg-based think-tank.
The study used data from First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Quesnel’s paper used data from First Nations people who live on reserves.
When people move off reserves, they are more likely to get better education, better jobs and have access to private home ownership, the paper argued.
“In many instances, they are also able to escape from many of the social dysfunctions that characterize many reserve communities, such as rampant alcoholism, domestic abuse and suicide,” Quesnel wrote.
Quesnel wrote that people between the ages of 25 and 44 who live off reserves make around $5,000 more than those who live on reserves.
Alan Isfeld, owner of a new monthly aboriginal publication called First Nations Voice, said many people are forced to leave reserves because the opportunities just aren’t there.
“There’s all kinds of opportunity if the government will release those strings of the Indian Act and allow the leadership to do what they want to do,” Isfeld said. “Why won’t they let us create economies for ourselves so we can self-sustain?”
Quesnel‘s paper supports the argument that more First Nations people would stay on reserves if the Indian Act allowed for better business opportunities.
“Having access to all these opportunities and being able to start a business off reserve, it appears this is one of the main ways of getting ahead,” Quesnel said.
Ron Evans, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said a lack of adequate funding makes it impossible for reserves to become self-sustaining.
“In many cases, in order for people to be successful and grow up and become professionals or tradespeople, they need to have access to education and the only way that can happen is if the community can provide those services,” Evans said. “The inadequate funding is denying them the opportunities that are rightfully theirs.”