OTTAWA — A growing percentage of non-aboriginal Canadians believe indigenous people experience discrimination on a regular basis that’s comparable to or worse than that faced by other minorities, a new survey suggests.
The survey, released Wednesday by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, appears on the whole to indicate that Canadians in general are becoming increasingly aware of the challenges faced by Canada’s indigenous communities.
Nearly nine in 10 respondents to the study, which Environics conducted with the help of seven aboriginal and non-aboriginal organizations, say they believe aboriginals are either often or occasionally the target of discriminatory behaviour.
At the same time, however, the survey also suggests a large percentage of Canadians remain ignorant of indigenous issues.
“I was surprised that, on average across the country, 30 per cent of Canadians still have not heard of residential schools…. That means we have a lot of ground to cover,” said Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The centre, located at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, was established as a repository for the historical material emanating from the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which explored the tragic legacy of Canada’s residential schools.
About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their families and forced to attend the government schools over much of the last century to “take the Indian out of the child.” At least 6,000 are estimated to have died.
The last school closed outside Regina in 1996.
“The story that we have told ourselves as a country for many years is not very accurate,” Moran said. “It has largely eliminated indigenous realities from history books — that needs to change.”
“The positive thing with this survey is it shows that Canadians also understand that this needs to change as well.”
Of the survey’s 2,000 respondents, 59 per cent said they believe there’s a significant gap between the standards of living for aboriginals and non-aboriginals in Canada.
“There is still a significant amount of work needed to be done in terms of educating Canadians of the history and realities indigenous peoples have had to face in this country,” said Moran.
That’s in addition to helping Canadians understand the unique legal, constitutional and treaty rights that indigenous people have as well. The centre has a big role to play in that.”
The survey shows non-indigenous people recognize and understand at “some level” the challenges and disparities faced by Aboriginal Peoples, but progress will continue to come slowly, said NDP indigenous affairs critic Charlie Angus.
“Over the last 12 years I have seen a real shift in Canadians’ understanding. There is an awareness of the discrimination,” Angus said after question period Wednesday.
“Five years ago that was blowing people’s minds now they understand it (and) the residential school stories have really resonated, but we still have a long way to go.”
The survey was comprised of 30 questions on topics ranging from basic knowledge of indigenous culture to personal perceptions of indigenous peoples and issues.
It comes one year after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 sweeping recommendations for action following the six years it spent examining the lingering and wide-ranging impact of the residential school era.
The survey was based on phone interviews with about 2,000 non-aboriginal Canadian adults between January and February and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.