As Canadians, we are blessed with a relatively strong economy, a rich cultural heritage, and a vast, beautiful country. Below the tranquil surface, however, young people are struggling to find work, regional disparities are causing increased inequality, and the current economic strength is far from guaranteed to last. One group in particular knows about the perils of disengagement and a lack of opportunity, in the midst of this land of plenty: Aboriginal Canadians. Aboriginal communities in general across Canada face considerable socio-economic hardships, and these problems are especially acute among Aboriginal youth.
Now, however, those young people are starting to do something about it, by speaking out about issues—both political and cultural—that affect them. The Globe and Mail recently published an article on young Aboriginals getting involved in the political and economic affairs of the country with the goal of improving life in First Nations communities. The long-standing divisions between First Nations and the rest of the Canadian population, as well as the internal divisions within Aboriginal society, are the roadblocks now being broken down by these young voices.
The problems facing Aboriginal youth—unemployment, a lack of economic opportunities, addiction and mental illness among them—are familiar to young adults across Canada, but many Aboriginals face more challenging circumstances. The relative isolation of most Aboriginal communities, whether located in rural areas of the south or scattered among the vast wilderness of northern Canada, offers them little opportunity. The cost of transporting goods means that even basic commodities are outrageously overpriced compared to the rest of the country, and the lack of good jobs for young and old alike only exacerbates the problem.
Considering the overwhelming number of young Aboriginal Canadians—approximately half of the Aboriginal population is under the age of 25—they will be the ones to bring change to their struggling communities. Their engagement is needed now more than ever before. Aboriginal issues are a federal responsibility, and it grows ever more apparent that the current government’s priorities lie elsewhere. Without loud and clear calls for change, the problems affecting these groups will persist, and the government will continue to provide lip service to change without actually tackling the issues. Young people tend to be at the forefront of social and political change, and this situation is likely to continue that trend.
There are signs of progress, however. The growth of the natural resource sector has meant previously isolated regions have opened up and provided work opportunities for young Natives. Many young Aboriginals, like other young Canadians, are traveling to booming areas of Alberta, the Prairies or Newfoundland to help fill labour shortages. In turn, these jobs are providing money and impetus to further education; many young Aboriginals don’t finish high school, let alone have the opportunity to go to post-secondary school. Programs are being developed to address this serious problem, and initial results seem to point to moderate success. As more young Aboriginals discover their potential and assert their right to successful, productive futures built on solid educations, their already rich cultural heritage will grow even richer, and they will be able to help subsequent generations forge their own path. Indeed, they will become the driving force that will help lift their shamefully marginalized and neglected populations to the forefront of modern Canada, and will rightfully be seen as an integral part of the nation.
Young people across Canada are mired in uncertain times, and especially in Aboriginal communities—but things can change. Through political and economic progress, improved access to education and job opportunities, and a renewed drive to change their lives for the better, young Aboriginals can help themselves and their communities to share in Canada’s prosperity. Indeed, the growing involvement of these young people in the nation’s affairs will enrich us all.