Canada’s Indigenous youth have shown resilience with several social indicators pointing in the right direction, according to new findings from Statistics Canada, which also finds Indigenous youth still face disparities in education and employment.
These findings appear in the chapter of the report Portrait of Youth in Canada describing Indigenous youth, a growing group of diverse backgrounds living across a range of settings. “Furthermore, Indigenous youth face unique structural inequities,” it reads. “The effects of colonization on Indigenous people in Canada continue to be felt and have reverberated through multiple generations. However, Indigenous youth continue to show resilience.”
According to the report, Indigenous youth make up almost 17 per cent of Canada’s total Indigenous population with individuals aged 15 to 24 making up a larger share of the Indigenous population than in the non-Indigenous population. On average, Indigenous peoples were 8.8 years younger than the non-Indigenous population in 2016. Researchers also expect that Canada’s Indigenous population will remain younger than its non-Indigenous counterparts and that youth will make up a larger share of the population in coming decades.
A regional look at Victoria Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) underscores this point. The 2016 census counted 357,690 people in Victoria CMA, of which 17,245 (or 4.8 per cent) identified themselves as Aboriginal. Youth accounted for 17 per cent of the Indigenous population, while their non-Indigenous peers accounted for 11.5 per cent of the non-Indigenous population.
The gap is even bigger when looking at children aged 14 and under. They represented 23.9 per cent of the total Aboriginal population, while non-Aboriginal children aged 14 and under accounted for 12.9 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population in Victoria CMA.
The average age of the Aboriginal population in Victoria CMA was 32.9 years, compared with 43.9 years for the non-Aboriginal population.
This younger population is increasingly closing the educational gap to their non-Indigenous peers. According to the research, 70 per cent of Indigenous youth aged 20 to 24 in Canada had completed high school in 2016, up from 57 per cent in 2006. “However, a gap remains between these youths and non-Indigenous youth, who had a high school completion rate of 91 per cent,” it reads.
By virtue of their demographics, Indigenous youth make up a growing share of Canada’s youth employment, however, gaps between Indigenous youth and non-Indigenous youth remain. “In 2016, the employment rate for Indigenous youth was 39.3 (per cent), and the unemployment rate was 23 (per cent), compared with 52.8 (per cent) and 15.1 (per cent) for non-Indigenous youth,” it reads. The COVID-19 pandemic has also hurt employment levels among Indigenous youth worse than among non-Indigenous youth.
If Indigenous youth are catching up on broad social indicators, other findings point toward a cultural-linguistic renaissance among Indigenous youth. The majority of First Nations (91 per cent), Metis (93 per cent) and Inuit youth (97 per cent) reported that they felt good about their Indigenous identity. Findings about language underscore this. According to the report, half of Indigenous youth reported that speaking an Indigenous language was important or very important to them.
“Many Indigenous youth highly value the ability to speak an Indigenous language and are active participants in their tradition and culture,” it reads.
This said, Indigenous youth report less positive mental health outcomes than older age groups among Indigenous people.
Close to one in five Indigenous youth had received a mood disorder diagnosis and nearly one in four had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Other issues, not directly addressed in report, are also likely to shape the lives of Indigenous youth in ways unfamiliar to non-Indigenous youth. They include subpar housing (among other infrastructure issues) and inter-generational trauma.
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