This study was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, in partnership with the Mowat Centre; 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
For full project details, go to Environics Institute
It its most formal sense, the Canadian federation is comprised of 13 provincial and territorial jurisdictions. But Canada as a political entity took shape and developed within the wider context of a series of arrangements with the Indigenous Peoples who lived on its lands for thousands of years before the first European explorers, traders and settlers arrived; arrangements that were elaborated on in the form of treaties, royal decrees and, more recently, constitutional provisions recognizing the distinctive rights of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Canada’s federal structure and division of powers, therefore, is enveloped within the broader constitutional reality that includes Indigenous rights.
More generally, the Canadian political community that emerged after Confederation was always more than a partnership among sub-national units; it was also an attempt to accommodate, within a single state, the needs and interests of different peoples. Though this aspect of Confederation may originally have been conceived of as a partnership between British and French, it has over time been contested and reconceived to become more inclusive, first of a wider group of European and then other non- Indigenous ethnicities, and subsequently of the Indigenous Peoples living within Canada.
For these reasons, no attempt to assess, modernize or reimagine the Canadian federation today is complete without including the perspectives of Indigenous Peoples, and addressing issues relating to the prosperity and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples and communities. This is the focus of this report, the third in the series presenting the results of the Confederation of Tomorrow 2019 survey of Canadians.
The first report, Canada: Pulling Together or Drifting Apart?, examined Canadian identities, as well as perspectives on how well the federation is responding to the interests of each of the 13 provinces and territories. The second report, Making Federalism Work, focused on the ways in which the country’s federal, provincial and territorial governments should work together as federal partners to address key issues.
This third report turns to examine how Indigenous Peoples see the country and their place in it, how non-Indigenous people view the situation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and how both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people think that the process of achieving reconciliation should be advanced. The report finds that most Canadians believe that individuals like themselves have a role to play in moving reconciliation forward. There is also a recognition within Canadian society of the gaps in the standards of living between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and of the need to address them. Most Canadians support a number of specific policies that could improve Indigenous well-being and advance reconciliation, such as increases in government funding for Indigenous schools, as well as the transfer of the powers of self-government to Indigenous communities. And majorities of both Indigenous and non- Indigenous people are confident in the ability of Canadians to resolve their internal differences. At the same time, only a minority of non-Indigenous Canadians view Indigenous Peoples as possessing unique rights that differentiate them from other ethnic or cultural groups in Canada, or are certain that resource development on Indigenous lands should not proceed in the absence of consent from the Indigenous Peoples concerned. It thus appears that the support within Canadian society of specific steps to advance reconciliation is not always underpinned by an awareness of the different constitutional and legal realities that affect the status of the country’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
Here is a summary of the specific findings:
The first report in this series, Canada: Pulling Together or Drifting Apart?¸ confirmed that most Canadians have nested or overlapping identities, combining identification with both Canada and their province or territory, as well as other identities related to their language, ethnicity, gender or religion. This report finds that the same is true for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Three in four Indigenous people express some combination of Indigenous and Canadian identities (whether Indigenous first, but also Canadian; equally Indigenous and Canadian; or Canadian first, but also Indigenous). Relatively few identify exclusively as one or the other. One in three identify themselves as first or only Indigenous, with this proportion being higher among First Nations peoples, and lower among Métis and Inuit.
At the same time, eight in ten Indigenous Peoples say their Indigenous nation or community is important to their personal sense of identity. And the proportions saying language, region or province, and gender are important to their personal sense of identity are just as high. Those who identify as Inuit are particularly likely to say that their region, gender, language and religion are very important to their own sense of identity.
Indigenous Peoples in Canada: Non-Indigenous Perspectives
Despite the entrenchment of Indigenous rights in Canada’s constitution, the understanding of Indigenous Peoples as holders of unique rights is not the predominant perspective among non-Indigenous Canadians. While two in five Canadians see Indigenous Peoples as having unique rights as the first inhabitants of the continent, a slightly higher proportion (almost half ) sees them as being just like other cultural or ethnic groups in Canada’s multicultural society. In the North, about seven in ten think about Indigenous Peoples as having unique rights as the first inhabitants of the continent – a much greater proportion than in any other part of Canada. Among the provinces, support for the notion of Indigenous people possessing unique rights is higher than average in Quebec and New Brunswick, and lower in the Prairies, Newfoundland and Labrador, and PEI. On this question, views are similar between men and women, across age groups, and among those with different levels of education.
In contrast, there is much broader public recognition among Canadians regarding the gap in the standard of living between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Three-quarters of non-Indigenous Canadians say that, from what they know or have heard, there is either a large or a moderate gap in the standard of living between Indigenous Peoples and other Canadians.
While non-Indigenous Canadians may recognize the disadvantages that many Indigenous Peoples face, many are reluctant to single themselves or their governments out for blame. A plurality of non-Indigenous Canadians say that the attitudes of the Canadian public, the policies of Canadian governments, and Indigenous Peoples themselves are all equal obstacles to achieving economic and social equality for Indigenous Peoples. But three in ten say that the biggest obstacle is Indigenous Peoples themselves. Combining these two responses reveals that seven in ten non-Indigenous Canadians believe that Indigenous Peoples are at least partially responsible for obstacles to equality. The proportion that says the biggest obstacles is Indigenous Peoples themselves is twice as big as the proportion that singles out the policies of Canadian governments, and more than three times the proportion that points to the attitudes of the Canadian public.
Large majorities of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians support a number of specific policies to address reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, such as providing government funding to ensure all Indigenous communities have clean drinking water and adequate housing, or increasing funding for education in Indigenous schools so that it matches funding for other schools. The main difference between the views of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is that the former are more likely to express strong support for these policies. None of the policies are opposed by more than one in four non-Indigenous Canadians. Support for each of these four policies is highest in the three Northern territories and lowest in the Prairie provinces.
A majority of Canadians also believe that individual Canadians like themselves have a role to play in efforts to bring about reconciliation between Indigenous and non- Indigenous people. This view is shared by more or less equal proportions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, but is held more strongly among the former. Only about one in seven Canadians do not see a role for individual Canadians in efforts to bring about reconciliation.
A majority of Canadians support the transfer of the powers of self-government to Indigenous communities, although support is both higher and stronger among Indigenous Peoples compared to non-Indigenous people. Overall support is similar among First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, but the proportion that strongly supports self-government is higher among Inuit and First Nations peoples than among those who identify as Métis.
Canadians are open to the sharing of the wealth generated from the development of natural resources with the Indigenous Peoples on whose traditional lands these resources may be found, but are less certain about the need for Indigenous Peoples to consent to the development of these resources in the first place. Specifically, a plurality of Canadians agree that Indigenous Peoples should be entitled to a fair share of the royalties earned on the development of natural resources that are located on the traditional territories of Indigenous Peoples. But while a majority of Indigenous Peoples say that governments should hold off on proceeding with resource development on traditional Indigenous territories until consent is given by Indigenous Peoples, non-Indigenous people are more equivocal: about a third of non-Indigenous people concur, but a slightly higher proportion says it would depend on the circumstances. Fewer than one in four, however, say that development should proceed even in the absence of Indigenous consent.
Attitudes toward Government and the Federation
Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have similar views on many general questions about the role of government and the Canadian federation. Indigenous Peoples are only slightly less satisfied than non-Indigenous people with the way things are going in our country today. Satisfaction is lower among those who identify as Métis, compared to those who identify as First Nations (especially those living on-reserve) or Inuit. When asked about the most important problem facing Canadians today, Indigenous Peoples are most likely to cite income inequality, poverty and homelessness, followed by unemployment, and government and political representation.
With one important exception, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada have similar opinions on how well the Canadian federation is working. The exception relates to the question of the relevance of the federal government. Indigenous Peoples are significantly more likely than non-Indigenous people to agree that the federal government has become virtually irrelevant to them; the proportion ascribing to this view is especially high among Inuit.
Finally, majorities of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada are confident in the ability of Canadians to resolve their internal differences. Inuit and First Nations peoples are more likely to express a great deal of confidence than are Métis peoples; First Nations peoples on-reserve are especially likely to express a great deal of confidence.
Varying Perspectives across the Country
The survey results highlight a number of important differences among groups within both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Among Indigenous Peoples, there are sometimes important differences in the strength of feeling among those who identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit. Among non-Indigenous people, there are typically differences among provinces and regions, with residents of the Territories consistently being more supportive of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous rights, and those in the Prairies often being the least so.
In addition, among non-Indigenous people, occasional differences in opinion emerge between men and women, and across age groups. On two questions, these differences intersect, so that the biggest contrast is between the views of older men and younger women. Older men are more than twice as likely as younger women to blame Indigenous Peoples themselves for the economic and social inequality they face. Older men are also the least supportive of postponing natural resource development in the absence of Indigenous consent, while younger women are the most supportive.
These variations notwithstanding, in some cases, it is the absence of significant differences among age groups within the non-Indigenous population that stands out. For instance, on the questions of whether Indigenous Peoples are best understood as having unique rights, and of whether there is a role for individual Canadians in advancing reconciliation, the views of younger and older non-Indigenous Canadians do not differ significantly from one another. A generational gap in views relating to Indigenous Peoples is therefore evident on some but not all of the issues covered in the survey.