This is the fourth report in the survey research conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research for the Confederation of Tomorrow 2020 series, in partnership with the Canada West Foundation; le Centre d’analyse politique : Constitution et Fédéralisme (CAP-CF) à l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM); Institute for Research on Public Policy; the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government

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Executive Summary

How do Canadians view relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in their country today? How has this changed over the year, and how do perspectives compare across the country and among groups within the population? On the issues covered in this survey, there is little public consensus – opinions are spread among those with a more pro-Indigenous perspective, those with an opposite view, and those who have no clear opinion either way.

On balance, however, Canadians express dissatisfaction with the status quo, and voice support for more actions to address outstanding issues facing Indigenous Peoples, such as representation in federal institutions and control over traditional lands. Moreover, this perspective has solidified over the course of the year, as the country has become more cognizant of its legacy and current reality of racism directed at Indigenous Peoples and others.

Current state of relations

Canadians are divided in their assessment of current relations between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous people, and opinions have become more negative about the state of such relations between January and September of this year. This change may well be the result of the blockade in Wet’suwet’en territory early in the year, as well as emergence of racism as a major issue (sparked initially by events in the U.S. this spring, and then quickly spreading into Canada). Notably, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people share a similar view of the current state of relations between their communities, although the former are more likely to express a definitive view (both positive and negative), while the latter are less apt to have a clear opinion.

Reconciliation

Canadians are more likely to believe their governments have not gone far enough – as opposed to having gone too far – in terms of advancing reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and this view has strengthened throughout the year. A majority agrees that individuals like themselves also have a role to play in bringing about reconciliation; those holding this view outnumber those who disagree by a three-to-one margin. On this question, however, Canadians express greater uncertainty than a year ago, possibly due to growing awareness of the systemic basis of anti-Indigenous racism and what this might mean for individuals who want to make a difference in addressing it.

Despite the public’s generally negative view of current relations and government inaction, Canadians are more optimistic than pessimistic about the prospects for meaningful progress toward reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in their lifetime. And it is Indigenous Peoples themselves who are the most positive (they are twice as likely as non-Indigenous people to say they are very optimistic about such progress). Optimism about the future is also most evident among Canadians under 35 years of age.

Indigenous representation in federal institutions

By a two-to-one margin, Canadians support new measures to ensure Indigenous representation in federal institutions, including a seat in the federal cabinet, a representative at all First Ministers meetings, and additional seats in the House of Commons. Such support is evident across the country, but is most widespread in Quebec and least so in Saskatchewan.

Control over development on Indigenous lands

Among the many unresolved issues with Indigenous Peoples, the most contentious may be control over development on traditional lands. This has been at the centre of conflict since the beginning of colonization, and continues to the present day with the blockade in Wet’suwet’en territory in opposition to pipeline development.

While the resolution of such conflicts awaits legal and political solutions, Canadian public opinion is clearly on side with Indigenous interests. Two-thirds believe that Indigenous communities should have the final say in resource development on their traditional lands, compared with only one in four who disagrees. Moreover, such support has solidified between January and August of this year, indicating that the blockade controversy earlier in the year has not dampened public support for Indigenous control over traditional lands.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives

On many of the questions covered in this report, there are some differences in the degree of certainty expressed by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people: Indigenous Peoples are often more strongly in agreement or disagreement with a given proposition, and non-Indigenous people are often more unsure. But what is more striking is that the two groups do not find themselves on opposite sides of the issue. For example, only a minority of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people say that governments have gone too far to try to advance reconciliation; and majorities within both groups agree that there should not be natural resources development on Indigenous land unless the Indigenous community that lives there agrees.