Urban Aboriginal Peoples

Urban Aboriginal Peoples

Between August and October 2011, Samara spoke to disengaged Canadians across the country in a series of focus groups. The complete findings from this study are published in Samara’s report, The Real Outsiders: Politically Disengaged Views on Politics and Democracy. These briefs are designed to augment The Real Outsiders, by providing greater detail and insight about the conversations in each focus group.

English Speaking Women in Quebec | Lower Income Canadians | Urban Aboriginal Peoples | Francophone Women in Quebec | New Canadians | Less Educated Youth | Rural Canadians

Why must we have to fight?

Focus Group Profile: In Toronto, Ontario, Samara sat down with nine urban Aboriginal people aged 23 to 62 years. Their educational profile was varied; a few had some high school, others had completed high school, while three other participants reported having completed college or university. Four were single parents, while the remainder reported having no children under 18 years. Some had spent more than 30 years living in Toronto, and others only a few years. Several described moving around having lived “up North” or in other urban cities in their lifetimes. Samara did not confirm if all participants were First Nations, or whether Inuit or Métis people were also present. Hence, the report refers to the “Aboriginal peoples focus group.”

The participants in the urban Aboriginal focus group, more than any other, expressed concern about environmental issues: water and air quality, increasing pollution, accelerating climate change, and severe famines throughout the world were all raised by various participants. Many also expressed fear and worry for subsequent generations who will have to deal with ongoing challenges, such as environmental degradation. “What’s going to happen for my grandchildren?” wondered one woman.

Despite sharing such concerns, participants did not view traditional political engagement as an effective means of achieving any improvement: “I just don’t like dealing with politicians because the track record of watching a politician in Canada from any level, municipal right up to federal,” a woman said, “It just seems what they say and what they do is two totally completely different things.” Another woman felt that the best way to express her dissatisfaction with the political status-quo was actually through non-participation: “just don’t vote.”

Their decision not to participate was also informed by a limited sense of their personal capacity to bring about change. One woman felt she did not have the necessary resources: “Well personally, as one person to make change, it’s kind of impossible. Unless you have resources and connections to certain things … If you don’t really have those kinds of connections, I don’t see how you could really make a difference.” Another felt intimidated by the idea of engagement without someone supporting her: “I feel like I can’t – no one will back me up.” These feelings capture the essence of being an outsider – namely, a sense of powerlessness.

Some participants of this group managed their sense of powerlessness through spirituality: “I just like [sic] all the time pray,” said one woman. Compared to other focus groups, they were the only ones to raise the value of spirituality. In the words of one man, “I am just dealing with myself and my family. I’m not concerned with community leadership or anything like that. It’s more about having a local impact. There’s lots of prayer and spirituality in my way of thinking in life. It’s not really political.” In addition to being a source of comfort, their spirituality functioned as a potential source of strength: “the Creator gave us a voice”, one woman affirmed.

The collective history of Aboriginal peoples also came to the fore. Many raised the neglect and abuse from the ruling political system over several generations. From the loss of their lands to the policy of residential schools, it was clear that such experiences continue to shape the Aboriginal peoples’ views of the Canadian politics today. On this note, one woman referred to Canadian governance as a “foreign system”; a second described democracy as the “lesser of the evils”. Not surprisingly, there is a residing mistrust towards politicians and government. In their minds they asked, “Why should we have to fight for our land? The political leaders who are supposed to help us, go on about how we’ve been through so much...why should we have to give up our status rights? That’s our kids’ future, education.”

There is a real gap – one of the largest among the focus groups – between their democratic ideals of “freedom”, “cooperation” and “politicians fighting for the people” with what they experienced from their politics on a day-to-day basis. When the Aboriginal focus group was asked what might be done to make them feel more positively toward both democracy and politics, a number of changes were raised:

  • “We need more Native rights…they’re cutting our dental care…they shouldn’t be doing that.”
  • “…one thing would be to see our land claims and our treaties honored…that would give me a little smidgen that they might be alright.”
  • “Make me feel safe…I don’t feel safe in my neighbourhood…I’m scared to walk out of this room with my daughters. I’m scared for them to get shot.”
  • “…we should have our own [political] party. What are we doing with these people? Why do we even consider supporting them? Why don’t we have our own party that comes from our own cultures?”

In response to this same question – “what would make you care?” - one voice captured a simpler refrain: “If you want to voice your opinion, you know someone is going to listen to you and take action”.