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National survey: More Non-Indigenous Canadians see themselves as having a role in reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples

The fourth report from the Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 Survey has found that seven in 10 Canadians believe individuals have a role to play in reconciliation—a proportion that is higher than either of the previous two years.

The report was issued on National Indigenous Peoples Day by the Environics Institute, the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and the University of Regina (U of R), in collaboration with leading public policy organizations across the country.

Conducted in early 2021—before the recent and devastating discoveries of unmarked gravesites on former residential school sites in B.C. and Saskatchewan—the Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 Survey found that the proportion of non-Indigenous Canadians who are supportive of Indigenous rights had grown somewhat, and more are concerned about the slow pace of progress being made towards reconciliation. By a two-to-one margin, Canadians are more likely to believe that governments in Canada have not gone far enough in advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, than they are to say that governments have gone too far.

“Indigenous People have long been aware of the need for systemic and structural change,” said Dr. Kurtis Boyer (PhD), JSGS faculty lecturer. “In showing that more non-Indigenous Canadians are beginning to share this sentiment, these results, I think reaffirms the fact that healing and forging a new relationship with Indigenous People is an important policy goal that governments—at all levels—should commit to pursuing.”

Concerning the history of Indigenous Residential Schools in Canada, at the time of the survey three in five Canadians said that they are familiar with it—with familiarity being the highest among Canadians ages 18 to 24—suggesting that there is still work needed. Among non-Indigenous people, those who are more familiar with this history are more likely to believe that individuals have a role to play in advancing reconciliation.

“For any state of injustice to persist over time you either need wide spread complicity or lack of awareness from the general population,” said Boyer. “With the recent discovery of unmarked graves of Indigenous children, I think we can count on awareness increasing in Canada, and hopefully with that, a greater level of engagement from non-Indigenous Canadians.”

The survey also found Indigenous Peoples feel either very or somewhat attached to their Indigenous nation or community, and that this attachment is stronger among younger Indigenous Peoples, with the age difference being most pronounced in the case of those who identify as Métis. For most Indigenous Peoples, attachment to Canada and to their Indigenous nation or community overlaps. Not surprisingly, Indigenous Peoples are also much more likely to have confidence in the leaders of Indigenous organizations than in other governments or political leaders. A small plurality says their provincial or territorial government best represent their interests, but almost as many say it is their Indigenous government. Fewer say it is the federal government.

Lastly, the survey found that Canadians—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous—express similar degrees of optimism about making meaningful progress towards reconciliation over the next decade.

“One of the most encouraging findings in this study is that it shows that there is no deep divide between the perspectives Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians,” said Dr. Andrew Parkin, executive director at the Environics Institute. “On some questions relating to reconciliation, the views of Indigenous Peoples are more pronounced, but few non-Indigenous Canadians disagree. Many share the view that there is more work to be done by Canadian governments and citizens.”

Report highlights include:

  • Majorities of both Indigenous Peoples (58 per cent) and non-Indigenous Canadians (52%) say they feel very attached to Canada, and almost nine in 10 in each case (87% and 86%, respectively) say they feel either very or somewhat attached.
  • A majority of Indigenous Peoples (70%) also say they feel either very (41%) or somewhat (29%) attached to their Indigenous nation or community. In this case, strong attachment is highest among Inuit (60%), somewhat lower among First Nations peoples (47%), and lowest among Métis (35%).
  • Younger Indigenous Peoples (ages 40 and under) are more likely than younger non-Indigenous Canadians to have a strong feeling of attachment to Canada (54% compared to 45%). Among Indigenous Peoples, those age 40 and under are slightly more likely (43%) to feel very attached to their Indigenous nation or community, compared to those age 41 and older (36%).
  • Indigenous Peoples are much more likely to say they have a lot or some confidence in the leaders of Indigenous organizations (66%) than in governments (42%) or political leaders (32%). Non-Indigenous Canadians are more likely to express this degree of confidence in governments (53%) than in the leaders of Indigenous organizations (45%).
  • Almost one in two Canadians (48%) describe the current relations between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous people in Canada today as either somewhat (38%) or very (10%) negative. Somewhat fewer (37%) describe relations and somewhat (32%) or very (6%) positive.
  • Regionally, relations between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous people are most likely to be seen as positive in the North (53% – 16 points higher than the national average), and most likely to be seen as negative in the Prairies (53% – five points higher than the national average).
  • Indigenous Peoples (47%) are more likely than non-Indigenous people (37%) to view relations as positive.
  • In February 2021, opinions about relations between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians are somewhat more positive among younger Canadians (50% of 18 to 24-year-olds say relations between the two groups are positive), and also among first generation Canadians (43%). The proportion seeing relations as positive is especially high among recent immigrants (54%).
  • Disputes between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous governments in Canada frequently centre on the issue of control over land (or sea) and its resources—such as in the case of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in B.C., and the Mi’kmaq communities in Nova Scotia. Support for the principle that natural resource development on Indigenous lands should not proceed without the support of the Indigenous communities that live there has grown since early 2020 (66% agree), prior to the conflict with the Wet’suwet’en Nation, to 70% in August 2020. Recent surveys conducted in February 2021 show that Canadians remain supportive of this principle (69%).
  • Agreement for this principle is higher among supporters of the NDP (85%), the Green Party (85%), the Liberal Party (77%) and the Bloc Québécois (71%) than among supporters of the Conservative Party (55%).
  • 43% of all Canadians believe that governments in Canada have not gone far enough in trying to advance reconciliation. This percentage is higher when looking specifically at the responses of Indigenous Peoples (60%), and slightly lower when looking at non-Indigenous Canadians (42%). This view is also least prevalent in the West (36%), and is much lower among supporters of the Conservative Party (30%).
  • Regionally, familiarity with the history of Indian residential schools in Canada is highest in the North (71%) and in Western Canada (68%)—particularly in Saskatchewan (78%) and Manitoba (72%).

To read the full report, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, issued from the Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 survey, visit https://www.schoolofpublicpolicy.sk.ca/

This year’s Confederation of Tomorrow survey was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, the Canada West Foundation, the Centre D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government, and the JSGS. The 2021 study consisted of a survey of 5,814 adults, conducted online in the provinces between January 25 and February 17, and online and by telephone in the territories between January 25 and March 1.

 

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